Dec. 15, 2012
By Tom Weber
GREEN BAY, Wis. - What do you do when your top two players both have an off night on the road?
That's the quandry Southern Illinois head coach Barry Hinson faced as he watched Jeff Early and Desmar Jackson struggle throughout Saturday's game at Green Bay. The pair combine to average almost 32 points per contest, but in the waning minutes of a close game, they were just 5-of-17 from the field on this night.
Hinson solved the problem by allowing a trio of unproven players -- backup guards Josh Swan and T.J. Lindsay, plus true freshman guard Anthony Beane -- to take over the offense in crunch time. The group rallied the Salukis (5-2) to an exciting 72-70 comeback victory.
"If you had told me going into the game that Dez wouldn't play well and Jeff wouldn't play well and we'd still win the ballgame, I'd say that would be really difficult for us," Hinson said. "The encouraging thing is that with those two guys having an off night, we found a way to win."
Swan, who had seen his minutes dwindle recently and hadn't scored a field goal in the last three games, spun in an acrobatic right-hand scoop shot to give SIU a 70-68 lead with 1:30 remaining.
"I haven't been happy with Josh and how he's been playing, and I just flat-out said if you don't practice hard, I'm not going to play you," Hinson recounted. "He practiced hard the last three days, and I rest my case."
Swan finished with six points and also made a critical save late in the contest -- diving out of bounds to retrieve a loose ball.
Next up on the hero list was Beane, who drained a pull-up jumper at the 1:02 mark to give Southern its biggest lead of the night, 72-68. Hinson said he designed the play during the team's recent 10-day layoff. It was Beane's final bucket of an impressive 13-point outing.
"It's a lot of confidence to have in a freshman," Hinson said. "The 10 days enables you to do new stuff. Anthony rises up and makes the shot."
None if it would have been possible without the play of Lindsay, who scored a team-high 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field. The senior lost his starting job five games ago to Beane and hadn't scored a point in the previous three games.
"T.J. not only made big shots, but he made a huge play on a ball-screen and gets the ball down low to Dantiel (Daniels) when we had to have a basket," Hinson said. "He did a great job defensively getting a couple of deflections for us at the end."
Southern expected a difficult front court matchup against the taller Phoenix (3-7). That never materialized after Green Bay announced that 6-foot-9 forward Brennan Cougill was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. The Iowa transfer was averaging 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds, and the Phoenix dressed only eight players for the contest.
"We're proud of the eight guys who played," said Green Bay head coach Gary Wardle. "(Brennan) is a great young man, he just made a poor decision. Everyone in this program is held accountable. He'll be back."
The Salukis' biggest problem turned out to be ultra-quick point guard Kiefer Sykes, who scored 22 points and made a pair of free throws for Green Bay to cut it to two, 72-70, with 45 seconds to go. However, he also missed an off-balance leaner at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime.
"Give Southern Illinois credit, they hit tough shots," Wardle said. "There were a couple they threw over (7-foot-1) Alec Brown that just hit the top of the backboard and fell in. It comes down to key possessions, key loose balls and offensively protecting the ball, and Southern Illinois did a better job of it than us."
After posting a 2-11 road record last year, the Salukis are 3-2 in road games this season.
"We're going to go through some tough times, we know that, but doggone it, we're sitting there in an unfriendly environment, we're down eight at one time," Hinson said. "I just think it speaks volumes about our kids' character."
The Salukis played for the first time in 10 days and only three schools in Division I have played fewer total games against Division I competition. SIU will play four more times in the next seven days, including Monday night's home matchup against New Orleans.
"There aren't any Christmas parties that night because nobody invited me," Hinson said. "Monday night, come on folks, come out and see the Dawgs play."