Dec. 5, 2012
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Western Kentucky withstood a late Southern Illinois rally to hold on for a 58-57 victory Wednesday night at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Saluki guard Desmar Jackson had two potential game-winning shots in the final 10 seconds, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer that hit the back of the rim.
"I felt like all the shots were going in," said Jackson, who led SIU with 22 points. "The 3-pointer felt great."
Southern never led in the game, but with 10 seconds remaining, Jackson missed a floater in the lane that could have given his team the lead. The ball was rebounded by Western's Jamal Crook, who was fouled with six seconds left. Crook then missed both free throws, allowing SIU to come down the court for another try at the victory.
"Two shots with your best player shooting the ball, I don't think you can ask for any more than that," said Saluki head coach Barry Hinson, whose team dropped to 4-2.
It wasn't an easy victory for the Hilltoppers (7-2) and it may wind up being a costly one, as their leading scorer T.J. Price left the game with what appeared to be a significant ankle injury. He led team with 17 points. Two minutes later, forward O'Karo Akamune also left with an ankle injury.
"We were having to figure things out quick on the fly," said Western Kentucky head coach Ray Harper. "On the perimeter we're playing three point guards and trying to figure out how to get a stop on Desmar Jackson."
The Salukis dug an early hole in the game, settling for too many jump shots and falling behind by eight points at halftime. They shot 31 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes, including 3-of-12 from 3-point range. That was too many attempts from behind the arc for HInson's taste.
"What we did in the first half put us in position to lose the ballgame," he said. "We're not a 3-point shooting team. Get the basketball inside."
Southern finally used that prescription in the second half, when forward Dantiel Daniels scored all seven of his points. He could have had more, but went 1-for-5 from the free throw line.
Western received significant production from its front court tandem of George Fant and Teeng Akol, who combined for 20 points and 15 rebounds.
"When you measure their big guys against ours, I think we got our tails whipped," Hinson said. "I thought Akol was the difference in the first half. Our big guys had two points and four rebounds in the first half."
Still, Hinson was proud of the effort and execution of his team down the stretch.
"The thing that was most impressive was our guys, in the last three minutes, executed to a 'T' what we wanted them to do," said Hinson. "We had two heartbreakers in the air, and I thought both of them were down."