Daily Egyptian

Saluki basketball inches past Evansville Purple Aces

By Dillon Gilliland

The SIU men’s basketball team had not defeated Evansville at SIU Arena since the 2013 season — the final matchup of a 12-game home win streak against the Purple Aces. Since 2014, Evansville was unbeaten when the Purple Aces traveled to Carbondale.

On Wednesday, the Salukis ended their four-year drought against Purple Aces (10-6, 0-3 MVC) with a 65-63 victory.

“I think the significance of this game was that they had beat us the last four times in this building,” head coach Barry Hinson said. “We found ourselves down at 3:44 and found a way to win it. I couldn’t be any prouder of our group of guys.”

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After Hinson received news that his squad would be without senior forward Jonathan Wiley and junior guard Eric McGill for the remainder of the season due to injuries, Southern was forced to play with a nine-man roster.

“We’re pretty much ready for anything with the way the season’s been going,” junior guard Armon Fletcher said. “It motivates everybody to play harder, fight harder and focus more. It’s just the next guy up.”

After the shorthanded Salukis trailed for the majority of the first half, Southern outscored Evansville 16-6 in the final five minutes. Much of the Saluki scoring came from 3-point range as they scored 15 points from behind the arc in the first half.

Nine points from senior guard Tyler Smithpeters — who finished the game with 13 points, four rebounds and five assists — energized the Salukis and gave them a 32-29 lead at halftime.

“We finally got Tyler going,” sophomore guard Aaron Cook said. “I think he kept us alive in the first half. When our offense was stagnant, he came in and made some big plays.”

Both teams traded buckets to start the second half and neither squad managed to gain a significant lead.

Midway in the second half, Evansville rattled off a 10-3 run and earned a 46-45 lead. The Aces’ run was boosted by a defensive effort that forced 18 turnovers and led to 22 points.

With seconds remaining in the contest, Southern forced a turnover during an inbound play. After SIU gained possession, Evansville fouled junior guard Sean Lloyd who sank one of two free throws. Lloyd finished with 12 points on the night.

The Purple Aces received one last possession but missed the potential game-winning 3-pointer and sent Saluki fans home happy for the first time in four years.

Along with Smithpeters and Lloyd, two other Salukis — Cook and Fletcher — recorded double-digit point totals. Cook finished with a team-high 14 points and three steals. Fletcher added 13 points and two steals.

Up next, the Salukis (10-6, 2-1 MVC) head to Valparaiso, Indiana on Jan. 6 where they will take on the Valparaiso Crusaders. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m.

“It feels great,” Fletcher said. “It was a great way to respond after losing to Drake. It was a good test for our team and is going to help us out later on in conference play.”

Sports reporter Dillon Gilliland can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @DillonGilliland.

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