Daily Egyptian

Salukis advance to Arch Madness semifinals

Members+of+the+SIU+men%E2%80%99s+basetball+team+celebrate+a+point+Friday%2C+March.+3%2C+2018%2C+during+the+Salukis%E2%80%99+67-63+win+against+the+Missouri+State+Bears+at+the+MVC+tournament+in+St.+Louis.+%28Athena+Chrysanthou+%7C+%40Chrysant1Athena%29
Members of the SIU men’s basetball team celebrate a point Friday, March. 3, 2018, during the Salukis’ 67-63 win against the Missouri State Bears at the MVC tournament in St. Louis. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

Members of the SIU men’s basetball team celebrate a point Friday, March. 3, 2018, during the Salukis’ 67-63 win against the Missouri State Bears at the MVC tournament in St. Louis. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

Members of the SIU men’s basetball team celebrate a point Friday, March. 3, 2018, during the Salukis’ 67-63 win against the Missouri State Bears at the MVC tournament in St. Louis. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

By Nathan Dodd, Sports Editor

The only thing that stood between the SIU men’s basketball team and a second straight appearance in the MVC Tournament semifinals was the Missouri State Bears.

SIU defeated MSU twice this season by a total of three points in nail-biters that went down to the final possession in each matchup.

Friday’s quarterfinal game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament was no different as the Salukis turned in a 67-63 victory over the Bears.

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“I couldn’t be any happier with what these young men not only did today but what they’ve done all year long,” head coach Barry Hinson said. “Today was just a typical Missouri State/Southern Illinois ball game.”

The only variation in this win was that the Salukis shut down MSU senior forward — and NBA prospect — Alize Johnson.

In the first two games, Johnson posted a double-double against Southern’s defense. On Friday, he was limited to six points and only scored two points in the second half when guarded by junior guard Sean Lloyd, a member of the MVC All-Defensive Team.

“The coaching staff challenged me to guard him and keep him off the glass,” Lloyd said. “So that’s what I went out there and did.”

It took some time for SIU to get into the swing of things. Following a turnover on the opening possession, the Salukis finally got on the scoreboard at the 18:26 mark of the first half.

Both squads traded baskets until a 7-0 run by MSU gave the Bears an 11-5 lead.

Following a 3-pointer from junior guard Armon Fletcher, who posted 10 points and four rebounds, the game hit a lull on offense.

For nearly four minutes, the game went scoreless until MSU junior Ryan Kreklow hit a 3-pointer that gave the Bears a 14-8 lead.

The Salukis responded with a 9-0 run in four minutes, capped off with a 3-pointer from junior guard Sean Lloyd, that amounted to a 17-14 lead. Lloyd finished with a team-high 13 points and five rebounds.

Junior center Kavion Pippen looks to shoot a basket past Missouri State junior forward Obediah Church Friday, March 2, 2018, during the Salukis' 67-63 win against the Missouri State Bears at the Missouri Valley Tournament in St. Louis. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

MSU kept the pressure on, however, and turned in a pair of 3-pointers by senior forward Jarrid Rhodes and junior guard Jarred Dixon that tied the game at 24.

As the half crept towards a conclusion, a rare 3-pointer by junior forward Rudy Stradnieks increased SIU’s lead to 29-25 and gave the Salukis a burst of momentum.

“I know a lot of times that plays of the game don’t happen in the first half,” Hinson said. “I thought it was the play of the game.”

That momentum did not last long, however, as Rhodes drained another 3-pointer that closed the deficit to one point and marked the final score of the half. Rhodes led all scorers in the half with eight points.

Stradnieks and senior guard Tyler Smithpeters led SIU scorers with seven points each in the half.

The Bears opened the second half with a 3-pointer by Dixon and a powerful alley-oop slam by junior forward Obediah Church.

Sophomore guard Aaron Cook responded quickly with a steal and fed Lloyd for a layup.

On the next possession, Cook connected for a 3-pointer and gave Southern a 38-33 lead, its largest of the night. He finished the night with 10 points and seven assists.

After Southern’s lead was extended with a tip-in on the ensuing possession, Fletcher was slapped with a technical foul that shifted the momentum in favor of the Bears.

MSU knocked down both free throws and then connected for a 3-pointer that turned the technical foul into a five-point possession.

“Armon came over and apologized to me and I said ‘make up for it,'” Hinson said. “Then, all his teammates said ‘we got your back.'”

With 10:51 left to play, the Salukis went on a five-minute rampage in which they held the Bears scoreless and rattled off 12 straight points for a 60-47 lead.

Missouri State eased back into the game with jump shots and, with just over two minutes left, the Bears had closed the gap to four points.

Up by only two with 47 seconds remaining, SIU senior Tyler Smithpeters came up with a steal and dished a pass to Lloyd, who scored the game’s final points.

With a final score of 67-63, the Salukis earned their third victory over the Bears this season and advanced to the next round of Arch Madness.

“We can’t really celebrate too much because we’re already focusing on tomorrow’s game,” Smithpeters said.

On Saturday, the Salukis will play the winner of Friday’s matchup between No. 3 Illinois State and No. 6 Indiana State. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m.

Sports editor Nathan Dodd can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NathanMDodd.

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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