Hilltoppers stand tall over Salukis

By Tyler Dixon

SIU held Western Kentucky University’s top scorer to only five points Saturday, but the Hilltoppers’ unlikely leading scorer led the team to victory.

Hilltopper guard Brandon Harris averaged 4.8 points per game before Western Kentucky (5-3) came away with the 69-60 win over the Salukis (2-7). He finished with 30 points while the team’s leading scorer, junior guard T.J. Price was held well below his season average of 17.1 points per game.

The Hilltoppers are the third team SIU has faced this season that competed in last year’s National Collegiate Athletics Assoctiation tournament.

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Scoring was not an issue for senior guard Desmar Jackson and sophomore guard Anthony Beane in the first half. Each player finished with 10 points in the half, but no other Saluki scored more than three points.

SIU was not able to get a lead in the opening half of play, but was able to tie the game at different points in the half. Beane hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to pull even at 34 and helped his team get momentum at the break.

“I thought we had great momentum,” Beane said. “I thought we came out strong and then the turnovers killed us down the stretch.”

Sophomore guard Jalen Pendleton said it is key for his team to communicate when playing zone defense, especially when a shooter has the hot hand.

“It’s just what comes with playing the zone, you just have to make sure you’re there on the catch, as soon as he catches it make sure you have a hand in his face,” Pendleton said. “If not he’s going to burn you like he did us tonight.”

The Salukis led 43-38 with 14:54 left in the game, but two minutes later were trailing again.

Coach Barry Hinson said turnovers allowed the Hilltoppers to regain momentum throughout the second half.

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“We went up five, had the ball, had a timeout, called a play that we worked on, had a lay-up and get a moving violation screen on it,” Hinson said. “It was a good call but we were just not smart enough.”

Hinson said his team is relying heavily on Beane and Jackson to do most of the scoring.

“Somebody else has got to help us, we’re riding those horses really hard right now,” Hinson said. “But we’ve got to have somebody that can score for us inside.”

Freshman forward Sean O’Brien had his first start of the season against the Hilltoppers and finished with five points and three rebounds in 25 minutes.

Hinson said O’Brien took an ill-advised shot late in the game, but it is still a learning process.

“(I) thought he was a freshman, for the most part (he) played OK,” Hinson said.

Beane led the Salukis in scoring with 20 points while Jackson finished with 15 points on 12 shots.

Hinson said the main thing his team needs right now is to get a win.

“We don’t have a lot of confidence,” Hinson said. “Only a win is going to take care of this for us. I still like this team, I still think we have a chance to be pretty good but we just have to get a win and there’s nothing that will take care of this, nothing that will take care of this fear that we have without getting a win.”

The Salukis next chance to get a win is Dec. 17 on the road against the Racers of Murray State University.

Saturday’s game was also Military Appreciation Day at SIU Arena. Several soldiers were honored for their service at halftime.

Pendleton said it would have made Military Appreciation Day even more special if they could have gotten a win.

“It means a lot to us,” Pendleton said. “Coach talked about it before the game, those guys put their life on the line for us just to do what we could do to today, and today was military day so we just really wanted to win for those guys. If we would have won that game for those guys it would have been the best feeling, just couldn’t get it done.”

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