By all accounts, the SIU women’s basketball team wasn’t expected to upset Missouri Valley Conference foe Evansville.
The Purple Aces probably weren’t even anticipating an overly challenging road game, but they were dead wrong.
True, the Salukis fell to Evansville in a heartbreaking 54-53 loss that went down to the wire. To the 252 fans in attendance, though, the game seemed more like a victory as they cheered wildly on several occasions.
Despite only shooting 36 percent from the field and turning the ball over 15 times – the Salukis’ lowest tally against an MVC opponent this season – head coach Dana Eikenberg received a gratifying glimpse of what the Salukis are truly capable of.
“A good 37 minutes of basketball by us I thought,” Eikenberg said. ” More energy, more spirit and this was the first complete game we’ve had that.”
SIU’s increased intensity was evident from the moment the team hit the floor. Senior guard Daphney Desamours drained a trey less than two minutes in, giving the Salukis a 3-2 lead. It set the tone for a first half in which Evansville would not re-establish a lead.
Senior guard Danette Jones dropped a three of her own at the 15:48 mark, even with two Aces stuck on her. Desamours then sunk another from long distance, one of three for her on the night, to give SIU a 13-4 lead less than six minutes into the game.
“I haven’t worked on that shot,” said Desamours about her trio of threes. “I work on jumpers and lay ups, but I couldn’t find my way into that spot tonight.”
In another role reversal, the Salukis forced Evansville into turning the ball over 13 times while only giving up the rock five times themselves in the first half.
Setting effective screens and making strong cuts to the basket, the Salukis capped off the first half with an Elyse Morris jumper at the 2:10 mark. The freshman scored six points on the night.
SIU gallivanted into its locker room with a 25-20 lead, only the third time this season it has done so. The Salukis shook their fists in the air as the meager crowd in the SIU Arena made an astounding amount of noise.
But the first couple minutes of the second half exposed a recurring nightmare for the Salukis – Evansville went on a 7-0 run and captured a 27-25 lead, their first of the game.
The final 20 minutes became a seesaw battle between the teams. The lead switched hands constantly, even as SIU turned the ball over 10 times and committed 14 fouls.
Although mental mistakes began to build up, the Salukis still had a vital teammate giving them motivation.
“The crowd was great,” Eikenberg said. “It gives you a sixth person out there and a sense of support.”
Perhaps not used to seeing such a ferocious SIU team, the fans somehow managed to quake the arena when Morris drove through three Evansville defenders for a picture-perfect lay-up.
Morris’ two points was followed by a Jones trey, one of her three for the night, giving the Salukis a 38-36 lead with 10 minutes to go. Once again, thunderous noise ripped through the air, only to be quieted by a three-pointer from Evansville’s Megan Liffick shortly after.
But three subsequent Saluki bombs – one each from Desamours, Jones and junior Amy Hayden – gave SIU a 51-45 cushion with little more than four minutes left in the game.
Fouls then became a tremendous factor. In the final three minutes, the Salukis gave Evansville four trips to the charity stripe. Making five-of-eight, Evansville punctuated the free throw parade with a 52-51 lead.
Senior Lecretia Akines received an in-bounds pass from Hayden underneath the bucket and scored, giving SIU a 53-52 lead with only 25 seconds left in the game.
After a timeout, Evansville’s Jennifer Utterback hit a jumper, effectively writing the Salukis’ fate in stone. The Salukis came back down the court with 11 seconds left, but a shot from Hayden missed wide.
“I’m going to take blame for the last possession of the ballgame,” said Eikenberg, still winless in the MVC. “If we get ourselves into a couple more of those we’ll be ready for that.”
Reporter Gabe House can be reached at [email protected]