ST. LOUIS — SIU's men's basketball team ran out of options before it ran out of bodies in Saturday's 76-68 overtime loss to Illinois State at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
Center Kavion Pippen fouled out after fighting for a rebound with 1:14 to play in regulation, and with Sean Lloyd checking Redbird forward Milik Yarbrough, Phil Fayne put his team on his back in the tournament semifinals. Coach Barry Hinson elected not to use backup forward Rudy Stradnieks in the overtime in favor of Jonathan Wiley, and the senior with one good knee simply couldn't keep up with the 6-9, 200-pound Fayne. Fayne scored his team's first 11 points in the extra session and finished with a career-high 26 points to help Illinois State advance to today's championship game against Loyola.
"I thought (Illinois State coach) Dan (Muller) did a great job, his players did a great job, and I thought our guys did a great job," Hinson said. "But when Kavion went out, that was it, that was the moment."
Fayne, a first team all-conference forward, made 7 of 12 from the field and 10 of 15 at the free-throw line in 34 minutes. The Redbirds (18-14) needed only three field goals in overtime to hold off SIU (20-13) for the second time in three meetings. They shot 15 of their 37 free throws in the final five minutes, sinking 14 of them.
In a bit of deja vu from Friday night against Missouri State, the Salukis took a 56-55 lead when Aaron Cook converted a driving layup in transition with 1:54 to go in regulation at the Scottrade Center. Fayne had three chances to give the Redbirds the lead, but missed three free throws in a row before his fourth with 1:14 to play tied it up.
Both teams missed opportunities to win the game in regulation. Cook missed a tough fadeaway jumper along the baseline and a 3-pointer in the last 80 seconds. Yarbrough, another first team all-conference forward for the Redbirds, nearly won the game on a drive over the right side against Tyler Smithpeters, but Armon Fletcher came from the weakside and blocked his runner with four seconds to go. By the time Keyshawn Evans grabbed the rebound near mid-court, the horn sounded, giving the 8,415 fans in the stands an extra five minutes.
"You know, we had momentum coming into overtime, and we thought we were going to win, and we just came up short," Fletcher said.
Fayne's three-point play with 2:43 to go in overtime pushed Illinois State's lead to four, 65-61. Sean Lloyd and Fletcher, who each had a team-high 15 points, missed back-to-back layups on the next possession. Fayne added a jumper off a Yarbrough pass for a 67-61 lead, and in a game that neither team shot over 41 percent, it felt like a chasm.
"They just kept feeding me, and I kept feeling it," Fayne said. "So I just, once you got the hot hand, it feels like you can't miss. It feels like an ocean."
The Salukis managed only a Fletcher dunk, Smithpeters' 147th career 3-pointer and a Wiley jumper the rest of the way.
"It's tough, Fletcher said. "You lose a game like that, a close game, it hurts a lot. So, you just keep thinking about during the game, what plays led to that situation for them to have an opportunity to win the game. It just replays in your head the whole time. We had a great year. I'm proud of everybody, and we got to get back in the gym this summer and come back next year."
Smithpeters scored 10 points and grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds in his final game. Wiley, who came back from a torn ACL, PCl and MCL in his right knee, scored two points and grabbed two boards in 11 minutes. Marcus Bartley, who didn't score in the first half, put up 10 in the second half and overtime, and Cook added eight points, two rebounds and five assists.
Without preseason all-conference forward Thik Bol, who redshirted with a knee injury, the Salukis achieved their highest finish in the Valley since 2007 (second) and won 20 games for the second time in the last three years. SIU could return all five starters and two of its top reserves next season.
Hinson said after the game he would wait to see if his club was selected for the NIT, but with an RPI of 89 entering Saturday, the Salukis are a long shot. SIU's sixth-year coach was sure of one thing after the game: how hard his short-handed team fought in 2017-18.
"I think there's a difference between losing and getting beat. We got beat (Saturday)," he said. "We played great. I mean, we gave everything. We gave everything we had. And I'm proud of them. I'm proud of them."