Saturday, December 3, 2016

Southern Illinois Men's Basketball fends off Texas Southern comeback and wins, 74-70

CARBONDALE, Illinois — What looked like a blowout early turned into another white-knuckler at SIU Arena on Saturday. Once again, Southern Illinois made big plays at crunch time and fended off a furious Texas Southern comeback to win, 74-70.

The Salukis (5-3) were cruising along with a 28-13 lead with six minutes remaining in the first half, but the Tigers (4-4) cut the deficit to nine at halftime and really poured it on in the second half.

Playing in their eighth-straight road game to start the season, Texas Southern shot 64 percent in the second half and took their first lead, 51-50, on a driving layup by Zach Lofton with 9:59 to go. From there, the lead changed hands 13 more times, back and forth, with neither club able to gain more than a one-possession advantage.

The Tigers took their biggest lead of the night, 67-64, on a 3-pointer by Lofton with 3:07 to go, but Armon Fletcher answered for Southern with a trey to tie it, 67-67. That's when things got really interesting. Tigers' forward Derrick Griffin was assessed a technical foul for arguing with an official, and Fletcher made one of two free throws to put SIU up, 68-67.

TSU countered with a 3-pointer by Dulani Robinson to put his team back on top, 70-68, with 1:30 to go. Saluki point guard Mike Rodriguez then drew a fifth foul on Robinson, and after Texas Southern coach Mike Davis voiced his displeasure with the call, he too, was assessed a technical. It turned into another three-point possession at the free throw line for the Salukis, who grabbed a 71-70 advantage.

Lofton tried to put his team back on top, but his driving layup was off the mark with 40 seconds left. Sean O'Brien missed a shot for SIU with eight seconds to go, but Fletcher grabbed a huge offensive rebound and was immediately fouled. He made both free throws to put SIU ahead, 73-70.

After a timeout, the Tigers perfectly executed a play that got a Kevin Scott an open look at a 3-pointer that caught iron. Fletcher pulled down the rebound, was fouled with 0.3 seconds left and made the game's final point at the charity stripe.

There were several clutch performances in the victory for the Salukis. Sean Lloyd came off the bench and scored eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers when the lead was going back and forth in the second half. The sophomore guard entered the game just 2-of-12 from outside the arc, but made both tries tonight and both were huge. Fletcher's trey to tie the game, 67-67, was also memorable, as he drained the jumper going to his left and with the shot clock winding down.

"When we went down twice, two players made three big plays," said SIU head coach Barry Hinson. "Sean Lloyd made two incredible plays today — both threes had to go — and Armon hit a huge three."

Fletcher was Southern's leading scorer with 18 points. He started out hot by making his first two 3-point tries, missed his next four, then made the money shot at the end.

"The challenging thing for me with Armon is I want him to be better than what he is," Hinson said. "If he will just wake up every day with that passion and desire, I think this kid is going to be paid to play basketball."

Rodriguez also had a solid night as the team's floor general. He was 3-of-12 from the field, but made 9-of-12 the line and had a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists. The last Saluki player with a double-double in points and assists was Kevin Dillard in 2010.

Texas Southern will look back and regret the blown opportunity. The Tigers came out cold, missing seven-straight 3-point tries. The first-half funk included a dozen turnovers. They shot just 43 percent from the free throw line. Still, they had a late lead and perhaps could have held on if not for the bonus points they handed SIU on the technicals.

"I've been coaching for a long time and I've never seen that before," said Davis, who has coached in 529 games since making his head-coaching debut at Indiana in 2000. "I was talking to one official, and he walked away, and the other official came all the way across the court and made that (technical) call. He never told me what happened on either technical foul."

Lofton had 26 points to lead all scorers, while Derrick Griffin aded 12 points and 13 rebounds.

"I think they're an NCAA Tournament team," Hinson said. "I think they're going to win the SWAC, I think they're going to upset people (in March Madness), and if you're not ready to play these guys, you're going to get beat."

Hinson said his team used three-different defenses today and four-different ball-screen coverages, but he still called it the "worst defense we've played this year."

Add it all up, though, and the Salukis have won four of their last five games, including back-to-back comebacks against Murray State and TSU.

Next up for the Salukis is a trip to No. 14-ranked Louisville. It will be Southern's third and final chance this season to pull off an upset versus a Power Five conference opponent.





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