Salukis Stun First-Place Wichita State, 64-59

    Mercedes Griffin banked in this shot with less than two minutes remaining to give the Salukis a three-point lead it would not relinquish.

    Mercedes Griffin banked in this shot with less than two minutes remaining to give the Salukis a three-point lead it would not relinquish.
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    March 1, 2014

    By John Lock

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    CARBONDALE, Ill. - The Southern Illinois women's basketball team pulled off the biggest upset of the Missouri Valley Conference season this year, beating first-place Wichita State 64-59 at SIU Arena. SIU (5-22, 3-13 MVC) took its first lead of the day with 3:56 to play and never relinquished the lead.

    "When your team sniffs a win, they get down and play a little better. They anticipate a little better," head coach Cindy Stein said. "They were really focused on what we needed to do. This was probably our best effort all year of executing the game plan."

    Trailing by eight with 7:52 remaining in the game, Southern went on a 13-2 run and took a 58-55 lead. Wichita State (22-6, 13-4 MVC) cut the lead to one, and it looked like the Shockers were going to force a shot clock violation on the next possession, but Mercedes Griffin threw in a heavily contested long two-pointer off the glass to keep SIU ahead 60-57.

    Griffin and Dyana Pierre made their free throws down the stretch, and the last-place Salukis had the upset over first-place Wichita State. Stein was asked if she saw the win coming.

    "I wish I did. I would have been a lot more relaxed all day," Stein joked.

    Pierre had a 20-point, 15-rebound double-double for the second time in as many games, leading all scorers with 23 points and leading all rebounders with 15 rebounds. Pierre put up 27 points and 18 rebounds on Thursday against Missouri State.

    "They were trapping her, sometimes sending two or three kids, and she was just a beast," Stein said. "She wanted the ball, and she found a way to score. Our kids did a really good job of getting her in open spots."

    The game featured what looked like a different SIU team than the one that took the court against the Shockers in Wichita. In that game, Wichita State outrebounded Southern by 16 and had 25 offensive rebounds.

    Tonight, Southern had a convincing 38-26 advantage in rebounding. Pierre had as many rebounds at halftime (8) as any Shocker secured in the game. Southern had 15 offensive rebounds, which led to 16 second-chance points for the Salukis. Wichita, meanwhile, had just eight offensive rebounds.

    In Wichita, Southern turned the ball over 22 times and had just seven assists. Tonight, the Salukis had their third-lowest turnover total of the season (14) and third-best assist total of the season (14).

    In Wichita, Southern got down by 35 points and Wichita cruised to a 23-point win. Tonight, Southern fought back from a double-digit halftime deficit. The Salukis showed toughness. Azia Washington scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds despite suffering a broken finger in the first half.

    "Tonight we put it all together," Stein said. "Can we do that at Loyola (on Thursday night)? We'll find out."

    On Senior Day, Sidney Goins played arguably her best game of the season. The senior from Morristown, Tenn., scored nine points and added four assists and just one turnover. Jordyn Courier is ending her career on a high note, averaging nearly nine points per game over the last 10 games.

    "This team has a lot of great love for Sid and Jordyn," Stein said. "They definitely wanted a hard-fought game, and they got the win because of it."

    Wichita State continued a recent slide. After starting the conference season 12-0, the Shockers have now lost four of their last five and have fallen back into a three-way tie for first place in the MVC. The Salukis wore green shooting shirts, and both coaching staffs sported green outfits in support of the Donate Life intiative, which encourages people to become organ donors.

    The Salukis close the regular season next weekend with games on the road against Loyola and Bradley.