Second half stunner: Salukis knock off UNI 70-62, breaking losing streak

By Adam Warfel

In a second half thriller, the Salukis (10-10, 3-4 MVC) defeated the University of Northern Iowa (8-12, MVC 3-4) after being down 21 at the half.

“Our backs were against the wall, it’s an answered prayer for me tonight,” Barry Hinson, Southern head coach said.

Entering the game, Southern was looking to snap their four game skid within conference play. This game marked the second time the Salukis have played the Panthers this year after SIU defeated UNI 58-51 in Cedar Falls on Jan. 5.

Southern has won three straight games against Northern Iowa entering the game and eight of the last nine meetings have been decided by single digits.

Northern Iowa was on the board first, but a drive and dish by junior guard Aaron Cook to senior center Kavion Pippen knotted the score up early.

Two consecutive three-pointers by freshmen guard AJ Green helped Northern Iowa jump to an 8-4 lead at the 17:56 mark. The Panthers then went on a 10-run fueled by 100 percent shooting behind the three point line led by Green with six points to stretch their lead out, 18-4.

Southern could not get a bucket as they did not make a three-pointer until freshman guard Darius Beane scored to end the nine minute drought by the Salukis.

After the three-pointer, a steal by Cook resulted in a layup by senior forward Armon Fletcher and after a quick basket by the Panthers senior guard Marcus Bartley made a layup, making it 24-11.

In what had been a game of long scoring droughts a Green three was the first point by either team for four minutes and Fletcher turned it over on the other end resulting in a UNI score to extend their lead out to 29-11 with 3:54 left in the half.

Cook made a three-pointer to end the seven minute scoring drought for the Dawgs but another turnover by Fletcher lead the Panthers to another score, leading 33-14. Cook finished with the team lead in points with 17 to go along with three steals and four assists.

“Aaron Cook became a vocal leader tonight and took over the role of being a captain, like a point guard does,” Hinson said.

A three-pointer by senior guard Sean Lloyd and two made free throws by Cook closed out the scoring in the half as SIU trailed 35-19.

The biggest struggle for Southern in the first half was holding onto the ball as they had 14 turnovers which resulted in 17 points for Northern Iowa.

Fletcher missed two free throws to open the second half but Cook started to bring some energy forcing a turnover on Green, resulting in a layup for him and Lloyd added a basket as Southern began to cut into the UNI lead.

“That was the turning point for me,” Cook said. “I took it kind of personal – that’s when I decided [Green] isn’t going to get past half court.”

Lloyd made a three-pointer, junior guard Eric McGill added a backdoor layup and Beane added a layup off a turnover as the Salukis went on an 11-0 run to make it 35-30 at the 14:05 mark in the second half.

Two free throws by Fletcher and a steal and dunk by Beane inched SIU closer but the Panthers made two free throws for their first points of the half as the Salukis trailed 37-34. Beane finished with 16 points and five rebounds for the Salukis

“In the second half we knew we had to come back,” Cook said.

Cook made a three-pointer to knot it up but the Panthers answered with a layup of their own to pull back ahead 41-39 with 9:39 left in the half.

“Once [Cook] got those few steals, the whole arena got crazy and we were feeding off that energy,” Lloyd said.

Southern played a five guard lineup most of the second half as Bol and Pippen together only had 28 minutes total in the game.

“The five-guard lineup is tough to deal with,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said. “Fletcher and Lloyd can handle most big guys in the league.”

Lloyd began shooting better in the second half and added another three-pointer to give SIU their first lead of the game at 44-41.

McGill made a layup but the Panthers answered with two made free throws. Shortly after,  Cook threw an alley-oop to McGill pushing the Saluki lead out to 48-43.

Beane made another three and UNI responded with a foul as SIU extended their lead to six with 5:08 left in the game.

“[Beane] definitely was that spark off the bench,” Cook said. “He’s done a really good job coming off the bench and helping us in scoring and rebounding.”

Southern then went on a 6-0 run, fueled by three points from McGill, with one coming from the free throw line – pushing out a ten point lead with 1:13 left in the game.

Two free throws by Beane and a dunk by McGill pushed the SIU lead out to 67-54 with 32 seconds left in the game as the crowd was on their feet.

Two more free throws by Beane ended the scoring in the game at 70-62 as the Salukis snapped their four game losing streak.

“I’ve been coaching for 38 years [and] that’s probably the second best comeback I’ve ever been a part of,” Hinson said. “It’s probably one of the grittiest defensive comebacks that I’ve seen a group of young men make.”

SIU will be back in action on Sunday at conference leader Loyola with tip off set for 3pm.