Saluki senior forward Jeff Early’s clutch shooting sent SIU into an overtime 74-68 win against Miami University. of Ohio
The Salukis (12-16, 4-12 Missouri Valley Congerence) saw a fast first-half start as they gained a 22-9 lead within the game’s first 15 minutes. The Redhawks (8-17, 3-9 Mid- American Conference) mounted a 17-3 comeback in the half ’s last five minutes as they eventually took a 26- 25 lead at halftime.
Early led the team’s scoring in the first half with 10 points but did not stop there as he continued to score a career-high 31 points for the game.
“We don’t win the ball game unless Jeff Early is in a uniform,” coach Barry Hinson said. “At that last moment, you have to go with your seniors or your best players to make plays, and certainly in this game Jeff was one of those guys.”
The rest of the game was a battle as the score tied six times and the lead changed eight. Both sides attempted to seize control of the momentum, but it was a seesaw battle all night. Early tried to shift the momentum with his back-to-back breakaway dunks, and 5-foot-9 senior guard Kendal Brown-Surles leapt up to block a shot by 6-foot-11 Redhawks junior center Drew McGhee.Hinson Fireball interview
Coach Hinson said what he saw astounded him.
“He’s my height and blocks a (6- foot-11) guy’s shot and comes down and makes a three,” Hinson said. “He had just turned it over, and I’m giving him the look of the devil. There is fire coming out of my eye-sockets, and he goes down there and blocks it and I’m still giving him the eye socket fireball as he comes down and hits the three. I just let him sit down, and I didn’t holler at him.”
The Redhawks held a slim 2-point lead with seven seconds remaining in the game. The ball then made its way to Early, who hit a jumper to tie the game at 56 with one second left.
Early said the plan was to let junior guard Desmar Jackson post up against one of the smaller Redhawk guards for the game’s final shot. The Salukis drew up a play looking for someone to make a play when they saw the double-team in the post. That someone was Early, and he wanted to have the ball in the final moments.
“In my head, I’m just like, ‘I hope I can get this ball somehow,’” Early said. “He found me and gave me the ball, and I was going toward my left hand. I just faded away, and as soon as it came out in my hand I was thinking, ‘Dang, this is about to go in.’ It felt good as soon as I let it go, and I’m just glad that it went in.”
Jackson led the Salukis in overtime with 9 points and two steals as they went on to outscore the Redhawks 18-12 in extended play to seal the win. Miami of Ohio University coach John Cooper said his team played well in the first but could not finish.
“We played well enough in the second half to win the basketball game,” he said, “but they hit a tough shot to go into overtime. In overtime we just had too many mental breakdowns. I could go on and on down the list, but we just didn’t play quite well enough.”
This is the Salukis’ third win in the last four BracketBuster, as it gives the team a 8-3 record since 2003. Hinson said their matchup is a must watch for fans.
“We have an opportunity to celebrate the career of three young men on Wednesday night,” he said. “I’d really like to send these guys off with a bang. The second most important game that we play here all year long is when we honor our seniors, and I would really appreciate it if people would come out and help us celebrate their careers here.”