DES MOINES — Aaron Cook's back-to-back driving layups gave SIU's men's basketball team the breathing room it needed Tuesday night at Drake.
The Salukis blew their seven-point halftime lead in less than four minutes at the Knapp Center, but closed the game on a 13-2 run to beat the Bulldogs 78-67. Cook scored 18 for SIU (15-9, 7-4 Missouri Valley Conference), none bigger than the two layups in the final three minutes to break a 69-67 game wide open.
Drake (12-12, 6-5) missed eight of its last nine shots, turned it over three times in the final seven minutes, and dropped its third straight game.
"We talked about getting in a fox hole and just finishing it ourselves, and doing what we had to do to win the game, and when we went up four and had the ball, we ran the same play that we had just scored on, and put ourselves in position, and Aaron made the right read and did a great job," SIU coach Barry Hinson said.
Starting point guard Marcus Bartley was called for his fourth foul when Drake guard Reed Timmer drove into his chest 45 seconds into the second half. Starting center Kavion Pippen joined him on the bench at the 10:10 mark and the Salukis clinging to a 58-57 lead.
Nick McGlynn, who crushed SIU for 17 points in the first meeting between the two, tied the game with a free throw, but the Salukis answered. Armon Fletcher, who had a quiet 11 points, broke the tie with a baseline layup. Fletcher's reverse layup with 6:22 to go gave SIU a 64-63 lead. The game turned after Timmer's driving layup with 4:15 left, which was blocked by Cook but called a goaltend.
Fletcher hit two free throws with 3:08 to go to give SIU its final lead of the game at 69-67, and when McGlynn missed a layup at the other end, Cook pushed the lead out to six. The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard got around Pippen's screen on the right side and scored for a four-point edge. Timmer then missed an open 3 from the top of the key. Cook turned the corner on the next possession and bounced his floater over McGlynn high off the window and through.
"My guy right here, Kavion Pippen, just set two great screens, got me easy baskets at the hoop," Cook said. "So that was really what happened. He set some great screens, and I knew I could beat the big off the dribble, so, I just took the easy layups."
SIU never trailed by more than two in front of a raucous crowd of 3,198 fans and became just the second team this season to beat Drake at home, joining MVC leader Loyola. Pippen scored 14 points and Bartley finished with eight points, four assists, no turnovers and one steal. Tyler Smithpeters scored 12 points, grabbed a team-high eight rebounds, and had four of the Salukis' 18 assists. Fletcher had five rebounds, two assists, two turnovers, a block and a steal in 35 minutes, and Sean Lloyd had seven points, seven rebounds, six assists and four of SIU's nine steals.
Lloyd missed a layup and a dunk in the opening seconds of the game, but produced the dagger when Drake's Graham Woodward got confused as to where to go with the basketball in transition and dropped it on the right wing. Lloyd went right for it, picked it up, and finished the fast break with a one-handed slam in the final minute.
"Late in the game we struggled to stop the ball-screen a couple times, and then they started hurting us inside, and we were really careless with the ball in transition tonight," Drake coach Niko Medved said. "I think we tried to do a little bit too much at times. Our guys were excited. They played hard. They wanted to make plays, but when we really trusted it and shared the ball, and we got some good looks. They made a few more plays than we did down the stretch."
Timmer made 6 of 13 from the field, including 3 of 6 from the 3-point line, and 7 of 8 at the free-throw line for a game-high 22 points. McGlynn added 12, including 8 of 9 at the free-throw line. The Bulldogs converted 18 of 21 at the stripe, compared to 13 of 18 for SIU.
Drake turned it over 17 times, and for the fifth time this season, failed to win a game it trailed by 10 or more points.
SIU won its fourth straight game for the first time since January of 2016, and moved into sole possession of second place in the Valley with the victory. Bradley (16-7, 6-4) can tie the Salukis if they're able to knock off the Ramblers in Peoria, where they are 11-0 this season, tonight.