Dec. 29, 2009
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - A storm front rolled through SIU Arena during the second half of Tuesday night's men's basketball game.
Tony Freeman rained down the 3-ball, while Justin Bocot brought the thunder, as Southern Illinois turned a two-point halftime deficit into a 70-52 rout of Indiana State in the Missouri Valley Conference opener for both schools.
The Salukis (8-2, 1-0) outscored the Sycamores (8-4, 0-1), 44-24, in the second half, and It was Bocot who provided the initial spark.
The junior guard scored 12 of his 14 points during a pivotal 18-7 run early in the second half. Included in the burst were two soaring dunks, but the play of the day came when he chased down an overthrown pass from Kendal Brown-Surles, stopped on a dime, and used a behind-the-back spin move to slip past a defender and bank home a reverse layup. A crowd of 5,401 roared with delight.
Bocot entered the game as the team's fifth-leading scorer, averaging 7.6 points, but he has a history of getting hot and scoring buckets in a hurry.
"That's exactly how they say he is in the scouting report," lamented Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna. "He gets his head up and gets a few baskets, and he can really get it going and heat up. He is an athletic player."
After missing five shots in the first half, Bocot was a perfect 5-for-5 in the second.
"I got on him for being 1-of-6 and trying to be a jump shooter (in the first half)," Saluki head coach Chris Lowery said. "He's not. He's a slasher, an attacker, and he started doing that."
After Bocot carried his team to a 48-37 lead with 10:43 remaining, it was Freeman's turn to take over. The senior guard hit three 3-pointers during a two-minute span to build Southern's advantage to 59-43 at the 6:39 mark. His last trifecta came with 2:14 to go, and gave SIU its biggest lead of the night, 68-48.
"I told him last night that our seniors need to be great players and great role models, too," Lowery said of Freeman, who was 5-of-7 from 3-point range and led all scorers with 19 points. "He was big-time shooting the basketball. He broke their back."
Freeman shook off a first half in which he scored just five points.
"I'm a confident player, and coach gives me the green light to shoot," he said.
The Sycamores (8-4, 0-1) had upset on their minds during the first half. After falling behind by nine, ISU held the Salukis without a field goal for almost a nine-minute stretch. The result was a 28-26 Indiana State lead at the half.
Lowery said he lit into his team at halftime.
"I acted an idiot in the locker room, so they'd understand how important getting off to the right start is," he said. "If you're going to ever try to win a conference championship, you have to start off on the right foot."
McKenna said his team was "fighting tooth and nail for every possession" in the first half, but that the Salukis were the aggressor in the second half.
"I always talk to our guys about the aggressive team is going to win," he said. "(Southern Illinois) drove in there fearless and attacking the rim. If you give up easy baskets like that, it's deflating, and we gave up some really easy ones."
Southern Illinois shot 66.7 percent from the field in the second half, in stark contrast to the team's 32.3 percent mark in the first. The Salukis scored 18 points off turnovers in the second half and forced 21 turnovers overall.
"We just caved in to the pressure," McKenna said. "They turned up the heat a little bit defensively, and we had some weak turnovers that led to some easy baskets."
The Salukis have won five-straight games for the first time since the team won five consecutive in February of 2008.