Salukis hold off Loyola for a senior night victory
Coach Barry Hinson is 16-0 on senior night in his coaching career after clinching the No. 4 seed in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
“Senior night is a big night to me,” Hinson said Saturday night. “I put a huge emphasis on it. It’s the second most important game we play all year long. I love those guys, I told each and every one of them. I told their parents that I love them. They’ve given me an opportunity to be around those guys.”
Tonight’s game came down to the wire as, with 17 seconds left on the clock, sophomore guard Armon Fletcher nailed a 3-pointer to seal the game 72-70.
“Fletcher knocked down a big shot,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “Eight of 14 [from deep], they shot the ball really well. We couldn’t get the key stop in that last one. You’ve got to give them credit for knocking down those shots.”
Both teams battled at the start of the second half — Loyola trailed for most of the first half.
Coming out of the halftime break, the Ramblers grinded to their second lead of the game off a layup from senior guard Clayton Custer, making the score 38-37.
Custer finished with 21 points, four assists and three rebounds.
“He played well tonight,” Moser said. “Last game Ben [Richardson] was on fire and Clayton was one for nine. Now they flip flopped it. We have to get both those guys playing well together.”
The teams then traded the lead 18 times until Fletcher’s final shot.
SIU had four players in double digits scoring: Senior guards Mike Rodriguez and Leo Vincent had 13 and 15, Fletcher had 14 and senior forward Sean O’Brien finished with 17. O’Brien also grabbed 13 boards giving him the double double.
Moser said he was impressed with O’Brien’s performance adding that “this is my ballot and everyone can tell everyone it’s going to have Sean O’Brien on the all league team… He’s phenomenal.”
Southern came out of the gates hot. After senior guard Milton Doyle scored the first basket of the game, SIU went on an 11-0 run to take the lead.
Junior forward Thik Bol picked up four of his seven blocks — the second most in school history — in that 11-0 stretch.
Loyola cut the lead to six, but thanks to some excellent play by Salukis seniors, the SIU pushed its lead out 22-12.
The seniors scored all 22 points of the game at this point.
Momentum shifted quickly as the Ramblers went on an 8-0 run, cutting the deficit to just two.
Southern recovered and went on a 6-0 run that put them back up 8-0.
Loyola battled back in the final minutes of the half after being down only one point
Then, with 37 second remaining, senior guard Mike Rodriguez broke Custer’s ankles and made a jumpshot.
Loyola ran one final play before the half but Bol got a big block at the rim to secure a 34-31 halftime lead for Southern.
Bol had eight points and seven blocks.
The Salukis shot 56 percent from the field and 57 percent from behind the arc on the game.
“Going into the game in St. Louis there’s no question that if we don’t play better defensively we’re not going to win the ball game,” Hinson said. “The numbers we shot tonight were pretty special.”
“I was emotional,” Hinson said of senior night. “I was crying like a baby. Seriously, it’s like the last 15 minutes of Marley & Me.”
The Salukis will play Loyola for the third time this season at 2:30 p.m. at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri during the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.