Dec. 23, 2011
By Tom Weber
HONOLULU, Hawaii - Southern Illinois played its best game of the season, but allowed a victory over a BCS opponent to slip through its fingers on Friday.
Clemson rallied from an eight-point deficit in the final 3:25 to send the game to overtime, where it beat SIU, 83-75, at the Diamond Head Classic.
The Salukis (3-7) had numerous chances to secure the win in regulation, but the offense could muster only one free throw in the final five minutes. Southern's last six possessions resulted in four missed shots and two turnovers, allowing the Tigers (7-5) to creep back into the game.
"We were playing the score, instead of playing to win when we were up," acknowledged SIU head coach Chris Lowery.
Leading 61-59 with 11 seconds remaining, Saluki forward Davante Drinkard blocked a Tanner Smith shot attempt, grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
With an opportunity to seal the victory at the free throw line, Drinkard made the first, to put SIU up by three, but missed the second, giving Clemson one final chance to tie the game. Guard Rod Hall then pushed the ball into the front court and drove to the hoop, where he scored and was fouled by Kourtney Goff with 3.8 seconds on the clock.
Hall made the free throw to tie it, and Mamadou Seck missed a desperation 3-point try at the buzzer that could have won it for Southern.
"It was a heckuva play for a freshman," said Clemson coach Brad Brownell of Hall, who scored 18 points in the game.
Lowery said Goff should have fouled Hall before he took the shot, eliminating the possibility of the Tigers scoring three points on the possession.
"We talked about it in the huddle and didn't execute," he said.
Still, Lowery would not pin the loss on his walk-on point guard, who otherwise had a solid game with five assists, one turnover and two steals. Lowery was more disappointed with the way his team unraveled late in the contest after out-playing Clemson the first 36 minutes.
"If we just show a little more maturity and patience from that four-minute mark down, then the game's over," he said. "We have to grind them out, make them pay at the end of the shot clock."
"We're slowly getting better (inside) and we have to keep throwing it in there, because they're going to make plays," Lowery said.
In his second game back from suspension, Justin Bocot scored 15 points for SIU, including a dozen in the first half. Jeff Early also added 11 points, giving the Salukis four players in double figures, as Lowery whittled his playing rotation from 13 to 10 after yesterday's loss to Kansas State.
"We can't play everybody," he said. "Now that we have everybody back, it's time to build the team around that."
After falling behind by eight points early, the Salukis held the Tigers without a field goal for the final 13:36 of the first half and took a 31-24 lead into the break.
There were a couple of big momentum shifts in the second half. Tanner Smith scored seven points in 30 seconds to give Clemson a 46-45 lead with 11:53 remaining. After scoring just two points in the first half, Smith caught fire for the Tigers and finished with 26.
The Salukis answered with a nice run of their own. A tip-dunk by Drinkard, a breakaway slam by Jeff Early and another dunk by Drinkard put SIU ahead, 57-50, with 6:46 to go.
"Davante did a lot of things to put us in position to win the game," said Lowery. "He's obviously disappointed. He has to build on getting that block, making that rebound and then making that first free throw."
Clemson carried its momentum into overtime, converting 3-of-4 shots from the field and 15-of-17 from the free throw line.
"We let the game snowball when overtime hit and we weren't back mentally," Lowery said.
On Christmas Day, the Salukis will play the loser of tonight's game between Xavier and host Hawaii.