Salukis claw out victory over Missouri State Bears


Brian Munoz

Junior guard Sean Lloyd Jr., far left, reaches for the ball Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, during the Salukis’ 81-80 win against the Missouri State Bears at SIU Arena. (Brian Munoz | @BrianMMunoz)

By Ryan Demer, Sports Reporter

Even with love in the air on Valentine’s Day, one team from the battle between SIU and Missouri State was destined to walk away with heartbreak.

In an overtime thriller on Tinder Night at SIU Arena, the Salukis edged out the Bears (17-11, 7-8 MVC) for an 81-80 victory.

The win completed the season sweep for the Salukis over the Bears and extended SIU’s winning streak at home to seven games.

“We did some better things than last game,” Missouri State head coach and SIU alumnus Paul Lusk said. “You can’t turn the ball over 17 times on the road.”

Similar to the previous matchup, Wednesday night’s game was set to be a battle from the opening tip.

Following an opening 16-5 scoring run from MSU, Southern showed its resilience and hit big 3-pointers which kept them in the game.

Despite that, Missouri State held the lead until the final seconds of the first half when junior guard Armon Fletcher – who finished with a game-high 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists — banked in a heavily contested shot.

The half ended with a 35-34 lead in Southern’s favor.

The battle continued in the second half, as the Bears tied the game at 39.  The Salukis immediately responded with a 7-0 scoring run to regain the lead.

Junior guard Sean Lloyd — who scored 21 points with five rebounds and four assists — led the charge for the Salukis in the second half. After only one point in the first half, Lloyd added 20 in the second, while posting up and hitting from mid-range.

“We tried to screen the guards so that me and Armon could post up the little players,” Lloyd said. “I’ve played in the post all summer and gotten more comfortable as the season went on.”

Following a number of lead changes in the second half, with less than a minute left, the game was tied at 70.

As both teams had an opportunity to win the game in the closing seconds of regulation, both failed to score and forced an overtime period.

In the extra frame, Missouri State rattled off the first four points.

Then, junior center Kavion Pippen converted on an and-one opportunity that cut the deficit to one. Pippen scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds while battling the flu.

After the Bears hit a pair of free throws, Pippen responded with another layup that kept the game within striking distance.

Then, Fletcher stripped senior forward Alize Johnson, which prompted an SIU timeout and an ensuing layup for Fletcher.

Despite four turnovers, Johnson dropped a double-double with 15 points and 16 rebounds. He also dished five assists.

“I think he’s the best player in the MVC right now,” SIU head coach Barry Hinson said. “He gives everyone problems. This is a young man that’s averaging a double-double.”

The Bears responded quickly and scored a layup with just 11 seconds left in the contest.

Then, sophomore guard Aaron Cook was fouled on his drive to the basket.

At the line, Cook converted both of his free throws and gave Southern an 81-80 lead with four seconds left.

The free-throw line proved to be crucial for the Salukis in the second half and overtime, as Southern shot a perfect 7-7 from the stripe.

After Missouri State rushed down the court for a deep 3-pointer but missed. On the airball, Johnson nearly won the game with a tip-in at the buzzer.

After further review, the shot did not count and the Salukis were saved by the buzzer.

“It was a big-time win and definitely a test for us,” Fletcher said. “We did a good job of closing this one out.”

Up next, the Salukis (18-10, 10-5 MVC) will travel to Terre Haute, Indiana on Feb. 17 for a matchup against the Indiana State Sycamores. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Sports writer Ryan Demer can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @RyanDemer_DE 

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