Kyle Korver’s strong second half keys Bluejay comeback

By Gus Bode

OMAHA, Neb. — The SIU men’s basketball team kept national player of the year candidate Kyle Korver in check for one half, but he exploded for 17 second-half points as his team completed a comeback to take sole possession of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Korver had seven points at the half and the Salukis held a 45-37 lead, but No. 10 Creighton, which had stayed in the game behind the play of its role players, came out of the locker room strong.

After his teammates trimmed the deficit to three, Korver took the game on his shoulders.

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The nomadic marksman scored nine points on three three-pointers in a 38 second span that gave his team a three-point lead and brought the standing-room only crowd at the Omaha Civic Auditorium to its feet.

“Korver hit some big threes,” said Jermaine Dearman. “We had him in the first half. Other guys were making plays. Once they get going and once Korver hits some threes, they’re pretty hard to beat.”

The three-point barrage also allowed Korver to pass current Saluki assistant Shane Hawkins as the conference’s career leader in made three-pointers.

Following Korver’s outburst, the teams exchanged blows before the senior forward, who finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds, gave his Bluejays the lead for good with another trifecta. That shot came with 8:10 remaining when he curled around a screen to the top of the key and buried his fifth and final three-pointer of the afternoon.

SIU (10-4, 5-1 MVC) then missed its next four shots and fell behind by seven points. The deficit never got smaller than five points as Creighton (15-1, 6-0 MVC) asserted its conference dominance.

“I’m not sure they’re gonna lose,” said SIU head coach Bruce Weber. “I’ll be honest, they could go 18-0. I’m hoping we can get them at our place, but I’m not sure after that.”

SIU dominated in most of the statistical categories, grabbing seven more offensive boards than the Bluejays, taking 22 more shots and outscoring their opponents inside by a 16-point margin.

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But a massive free throw gap made up for the Saluki domination in other areas as Creighton attempted 40 free throws to SIU’s 8. And the canyon could have been wider if Creighton hadn’t missed the first of so many one-and-one opportunities.

“I did not appreciate the differential in free throws,” Weber said. “But that’s what happens on the road.”

Creighton’s full court pressure didn’t seem to disrupt the Saluki offense as much as expected, but it may have been critical down the stretch nonetheless.

“In the second half the press got to us,” Dearman said. “Guys were starting to get a little fatigued including myself.”

Despite the loss, the Salukis have no reason to hang their heads.

“Today we showed the progress that we’ve made, and we just gotta keep it up,” said senior guard Kent Williams. “We just can’t dwell on this game.”

In the first half, however, it appeared as if SIU could pull off the biggest upset since defeating Larry Bird’s Indiana State team.

Creighton, feeding off the crowd’s energy, scored the game’s first six points before the Salukis took over.

Williams, who finished with 12 points, knocked in a three-pointer from the right corner for SIU’s first points. That was the beginning of a 20-7 Saluki run that sucked the energy out of the building.

After starting slowly on the road earlier in the season, SIU answered every Creighton shot with one of their own in the first half, sending a hush over the raucous crowd numerous times, and leading by as many as 13 points in the first half.

Darren Brooks brought silence to the auditorium more than once in the opening stanza, as he was an integral part of SIU’s early success, scoring 12 of his 17 points in the first half.

Brooks also achieved career highs in rebounds and assists, with 11 and six, respectively.

“We just couldn’t stop them,” said Creighton head coach Dana Altman. “We were trailing everything. We didn’t dictate anything on the defensive end.”

Nearly every Saluki took a turn guarding Korver, and the platoon defense worked in the first half. Korver also missed some open three-point attempts.

But even with their early struggles, Korver and the Bluejays left quite an impression on Weber.

But as much as the Salukis were ready to challenge the Bluejays on national TV, they must also be ready to travel to Northern Iowa for a Wednesday game at the UNI Dome, a place that has not been kind to SIU.

“I’ve said all along the biggest game of this three-game stretch was Northern Iowa,” Weber said. “Our kids gotta come back no matter what happened in this game.”

Reporter Ethan Erickson can be reached at [email protected]

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