Dawgs head into Creighton undefeated in conference play

By Gus Bode

The SIU men’s basketball team knocked down late free throws to seal a 59-52 victory against Southwest Missouri State. But the 5,531 fans at the SIU Arena had something other than a made or miss free throw on their mind – Creighton.

Though SIU players and coaches protest the squad was not looking ahead to Saturday’s showdown in Omaha, Neb., Southern clearly was a different squad in the second half.

“We did a good job in the first half getting that lead, then in the second half, I think they got tired,” SIU head coach Matt Painter said. “I would say we need to play 40 minutes, but we are 11-0 [in the Missouri Valley Conference].”

Advertisement

The Salukis (17-2, 11-0) fell into a 10-minute lull at the start of the second half, which also happened last week against Wichita State, and the Bears (14-8, 6-5) stormed back from a 31-17 halftime deficit. But as is the story of the season, the victory came because the Salukis played heady on offense and ballhawked on the opposite end of the court.

“Our defense is our constant,” Painter said. “Our ability not to turn the ball over and pressure them to turn the ball over, that was key.”

In the game, the Salukis turned the ball over just nine times, while the Bears coughed up the ball 19 times and had a minus-11 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Brad Korn, who has been quietly putting up solid numbers in the scoring column, sealed a Saluki victory when he knocked down a three-pointer as the shot clock dwindled down with just over a minute to play. Korn finished the game 2-of-4 from beyond the arc and finished with 12 points and four rebounds.

Darren Brooks continued to impress in ways other than scoring. Numerous times Brooks’ long arms would reach out and knock the ball out of an unassuming SMS player to give the Saluki offense a second chance, which they needed Tuesday. Brooks finished the game with 15 points, but the 6-foot-3 combo guard pulled down eight rebounds and recorded two steals.

Despite the strong numbers, Brooks was still displeased with his effort. In the waning minutes, Brooks missed some key free throws that could have given Southern some breathing room.

“I missed free throws down the stretch,” Brooks said. “Other guys stepped up.”

Advertisement

Against the much larger and bulkier SMS interior, the Salukis were defeated on the boards, but not to an extent where it greatly affected the outcome. The Bears pulled down 36 rebounds, while Southern had 33. Southwest out rebounded the Salukis in both regular season games last season.

SMS’ Blake Ahearn exploded in the second half after going scoreless in the first stanza. The freshman guard scored nine points and knocked down 4-of-4 from the charity stripe.

“Blake Ahearn has range to 25 feet, so you have to go with him,” Painter said. “Anytime he gets fouled it is automatic. He is a very good kid. We tried to get him. He can be a non-factor for 30 minutes then score nine in the next 10 and be the deciding factor.”

The Salukis maintained their miraculous undefeated conference record. The 11-0 conference start far surpassed the old record of 7-0 set by the 1991-92 squad. The win against the Bears gives the Salukis more momentum going into the battle with Creighton.

“Hopefully, we can take our defense and our offense on the road to Omaha,” Painter said.

Advertisement