CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Marcus Bartley just wanted to tough it out for his teammates on Thursday night at Northern Iowa, and he wasn't alone.
SIU's junior point guard, who wasn't expected to play in the conference opener after tweaking his back in Las Vegas last week, came off the bench for four huge 3-pointers in a historic win at the McLeod Center. The 6-foot-5 Bartley hit a triple from the corner to pull the Salukis within three at the half, and three straight bombs in the second half to put his team ahead for good in a stunning 56-53 victory that had all the blood, sweat and tears you could handle.
"Everybody had toughness," said Bartley, who scored 12 points in 24 minutes. "(Jonathan) Wiley had the flu, he came out and played hard minutes. Everybody is banged up a little bit, but we just fought hard and really wanted this one, and we're just some Dawgs."
Without starting forward Thik Bol, at least for a few more days, the Salukis (9-5, 1-0 Missouri Valley Conference) outtoughed the eighth-best scoring defense in the country to snap an 11-game skid at the Panthers' home. Kavion Pippen delivered 14 points in his first Valley game, and Bartley's three straight 3-pointers opened the door to a 7-of-10 performance behind the arc.
Moments after Sean Lloyd saved a loose ball going out of bounds for an offensive rebound, Tyler Smithpeters stretched SIU's lead to 42-38 with 7:42 to go with a 3 from the right side. Pippen pushed the lead to four with his last bucket of the game, and Armon Fletcher's 3 bounced off the back of the iron and through for a seven-point edge in the final minute.
"It was huge because it gave us the chance to take the lead, but what it did, it allowed everybody else to have confidence to make a 3," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "Tyler made a 3 after that, Aaron (Cook) made a 3 after that, and Armon made a 3 after that, and you saw me. I'm calling plays for Rudy (Stradnieks) to make a 3, and Rudy's shooting a smooth 11 percent for the year, so that just shows you how stupid I was. But it was the confidence boost that we kind of needed, and Marcus gave us that."
Tywhon Pickford's 13 points led Northern Iowa (8-5, 0-1), which shot 38.9 percent from the field (21 of 54). The Panthers made 3 of 9 3-pointers in the first half, as SIU crashed in to double preseason all-conference forward Bennett Koch, but just 2 of 11 in the second half when the Salukis extended their defense. Koch turned it over four times and scored five points in 22 minutes.
SIU's first win in Cedar Falls since Jan. 22, 2003, had bruises. Stradnieks threw up before the game, Hinson said, and Wiley was not expected to play much after suffering through the flu this week. Bartley saw a chiropractor earlier in the day on Thursday to try to loosen up a joint he said was displaced. Lloyd, who led SIU with eight rebounds, landed on his back after nabbing a big one in the final minute and did not return.
Lloyd, who took a shot to his left eye earlier in the game, watched the final seconds from the bench and was able to walk off the floor. Bol, a preseason all-conference second team pick who was SIU's top returning rebounder this season, missed his 14th game but was expected to practice for the first time this year Friday. Hinson said he expected the 6-8 senior to make his 2017-18 debut Sunday against Drake, at least in some fashion.
After another great defensive performance, things are finally coming together for the Salukis.
"You learn how to guard, and if we're 39.9 and under, we're undefeated," Hinson said. "We've won nine ballgames doing that. As long as we continue to guard, I think we'll gonna have a chance."