CARBONDALE — There was nothing pretty about SIU’s 65-59 win over Valparaiso Saturday night.
The Salukis shot the ball poorly from the arc (1-of-10 in the first half, 3-of-15 for the game). They were out-rebounded 19-10 in the first half. And, although they created 17 Crusader turnovers, they never seemed to cash in.
As a result, the Salukis never seemed to have the momentum.
SIU played catch-up for the entire second half. They would manage to tie the game, or take a brief lead, only to turn the ball over.
Case in point, Rudy Stradnieks tied the game at 41 with 12:30 left in the game only to see the Crusaders sink 3-point shots on consecutive possessions.
Yet, in the closing minutes, SIU’s grit produced a win. The Salukis outscored Valparaiso 10-4 in the final 3:52 to earn their fifth straight victory. It is the first time SIU has won five straight Missouri Valley Conference games since 2006-07.
“We had an off game,” said SIU coach Barry Hinson. “In order to win championships, and in order to win games, sometimes you have to win when you aren’t playing well. We didn’t shoot the ball today the way we’re capable of shooting. We missed 10 free throws. We couldn’t make a three until we had to.
“You have to find ways to win ballgames. For some reason at the four-minute mark, this year’s team lights up at the four-minute mark. We don’t panic. We certainly don’t panic. We embrace it.”
“We were very confident,” said Kavion Pippen, who led the Salukis with 21 points. “We never gave up. We just kept fighting.”
And, the Salukis gutted it out on both ends of the court. SIU made up an eight-rebound deficit over the last five minutes. They forced Valparaiso to miss its final six shots. Kavion Pippen came up with a huge block.
“I think maturation has a lot to do with it,” Hinson said. “I hope some of that Floorburn U we talked about at the beginning of the season, that’s why we put it on the back of our practice jerseys, we wanted to go back to the days of Bruce (Weber), Chris (Lowery), Matt (Painter) and coach (Rich) Herrin.
“We wanted to go back that Floorburn U mentality. We’re kind of accepting that role right now. We can’t play the way they used to play when Bruce and all those guys were here, but we’re playing about as gritty as you can play in this day and age.”
And, the final score indicates the Salukis were the better team in the final four minutes.
“That’s the game of basketball,” said Armon Fletcher, whose 3-pointer with 44 seconds remaining gave SIU a lead it never relinquished. “Our 3-point shots weren’t to falling so we just tried to go to the basket and draw fouls. We did a good job of that early in the game.
“We did a good job of staying poised and not getting too upset with each other. We had a great balance of getting on each other making sure we played hard and got this thing going. We just have to find a way to come out in the second half and start better early.”
Cheerleader update: SIU cheerleader Alaysia Brandy was injured late in the game and was taken off the floor in an ambulance. SIU athletic director Tommy Bell said Brandy was treated on-site and did not have to seek further medical attention.