Williams’ last-second heroics help SIU men’s basketball team keep pace with Creighton

By Gus Bode

Salukis Bear down in the final minute

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – What else would you expect?

The SIU men’s basketball team, noted for its late-game drama this season, topped previous heroics with a last-second Kent Williams lay-in to defeat Southwest Missouri State 76-75.


Williams, who scored four points in the final 7.3 seconds, helped his team claw back from a five-point deficit in the game’s closing 1:11.

He finished the game with a driving finger roll with 1.4 seconds on the clock that gave his team the lead for the first time in more than 10 minutes.

After Monwell Randle missed a turnaround jumper from just beyond the free throw line with time expiring, the Salukis streamed onto the floor. Their celebratory howls echoed off the walls of the eerily quiet Hammons Student Center.

“The last two minutes of the game we had our chances and we made some mistakes,” said SMS head coach Barry Hinson. “We paid for them, and that’s what good teams do. They take advantage of your mistake.”

It appeared the Salukis (16-4, 11-1 MVC) were headed for defeat with 1:10 remaining and SMS holding the ball with a 74-69 lead and a fresh shot clock before Darren Brooks steal and three-point play gave the Salukis hope.

“My mindset was oh (shoot) we’re about to lose this game, but we pulled it together,” said Brad Korn, who scored all of his 10 points in the second half filling in for the foul-prone Sylvester Willis.

That fateful game-clinching play was set up when Williams faked a three-pointer, causing Travis Walk to leave his feet. Williams threw his body toward the basket and into Walk, drawing the foul. Williams, who led his team with 19 points and seven assists, could have tied the game at the free throw line, but the Salukis’ dramatic flair wouldn’t allow that.


The senior guard hit the first two charity tosses to draw his team to within one at 75-74. Sylvester Willis, who played only 11 minutes, grabbed the rebound when Williams missed the third free throw. An SMS player knocked the ball out of Willis’ hands and out of bounds with 5 seconds to play, setting up SIU’s final score.

“It’s just another typical win that we find ways to win, maybe don’t deserve to win,” said SIU head coach Bruce Weber. “Our kids keep their composure.”

Despite facing an uphill battle down the stretch, the pressure-tested Salukis weren’t about to fold the tent.

“We kept pretty calm,” Williams said. “We’re in the NCAA Tournament on national TV getting embarrassed by Georgia and we came back. So we know we can come back from anything. We just stayed calm and stayed within ourselves. We knew we had to make some big plays, and that’s what we did.”

But Williams was far from the only hero. Brad Korn scored 10 points, all in the second half, and hit four straight pressure-packed free throws with less than six minutes remaining.

SMS (13-7, 9-2), despite its strong record, has not beaten a team with a winning record all season. The Bears wanted desperately to prove they belonged with Creighton and SIU at the top of the conference.

But missed free throws, among other things, cost the Bears that chance. SMS made only of its six free throws in the final three minutes of the game.

“It just sucks the life out of you when you don’t make your free throws,” Hinson said. “I told our guys the only way we could lose this ballgame is miss free throws and foul them and consequently we did both.”

SIU came out prepared for a battle, taking a nine-point lead midway through the first half before leading by three at the half and allowing the capacity crowd to rattle it at times.

But the largest SMS crowd in three seasons found a reason to celebrate when Walk threw down a one-handed dunk after one of SIU’s 18 turnovers, giving the Bears a six-point lead with 8:13 remaining, their largest of the game.

The Salukis didn’t let the game slip away, though. They knocked down eight straight free throws to keep the game interesting.

“The crowd got to us several times,” Weber said. “We lost composure, took bad shots, but down the stretch, during that one timeout with two minutes left, I just looked them in the eyes and said you gotta believe. You gotta make some plays; you gotta keep your composure and act like you’ve been here. We have been here and we made the plays.”

Terrance McGee, who relentlessly attacked the basket, scored 15 of his team-high 22 points in the second half.

Jermaine Dearman, who was relentlessly taunted by the student section, added 18 points and six rebounds for the Salukis.

This was the first time Weber or any current Saluki had beaten SMS in Springfield.

“My whole goal was to get at least one win in every place I’ve been to,” Williams said. “And me and Jermaine finally got one here.”

But the win also means more in the big picture.

“Our goal has been since that Creighton game to make that March 1st game at our place really mean something, and we’re hanging in there right now,” Weber said. “We’re just lucky to get out of here with a victory.”

Reporter Ethan Erickson can be reached at [email protected]