CARBONDALE — It is still a long ways from the program’s first winning season since 2008, but SIU’s men’s basketball team took a numeric step forward that will be talked about for a long time Tuesday night.
Jalen Pendleton scored the Salukis’ final six points at SIU Arena, including the game-winning runner with two seconds to play, to lift the Salukis over Wichita State, 64-62. The Shockers are ranked 22nd in the USA Today Top 25 poll.
SIU’s first win over a top 25 team since beating Drake on Feb. 13, 2008, ended a six-game losing streak and provided the Salukis with their historic ninth win of the season.
They won only eight games last season, setting the school record for losses with 23, but can now say, at least for the rest of the week, they may have turned the corner in some small way at a program that went to six straight NCAA tournaments between 2002 and 2007.
“The tradition here is great. People walk around the arena, and you see it everywhere on the walls,” said SIU senior guard T.J. Lindsay. “I just wanted to do my best, to just play hard every game for the fans out there, and let people know we’re gonna try our hardest to win every game. If they just stick with us, they’re going to get that kind of effort every time.”
Lindsay kept SIU (9-14, 2-10 Missouri Valley Conference) in the game with the Shockers with 14 points off the bench, all in the first half.
The 6-foot-3 shooting guard made 4-of-5 from the 3-point line in the first half, helping the Salukis close the half on a 23-7 run that got them within one at the break.
If not for Desmar Jackson’s missed dunk at the buzzer, they would have led at the half and may not have needed a 9-0 run to start the second half to get going.
Wichita State (19-5, 8-4 MVC), which dropped its season-worst third straight game, missed its first seven shots from the field in the second half to go down nine with 15:26 to go. The Shockers got the lead back with 2:18 to go off a three-point play by Cleanthony Early.
Pendleton, one of two true freshmen in coach Barry Hinson’s rotation who was inserted into the game late to try to get a defensive stop, made something happen with the basketball to seal the victory.
Pendleton stole the ball from Malcolm Armstead and was fouled with 1:45 to play. His two free throws tied the game up at 60 and got the crowd of 4,852, to start to smell something big.
Wichita State forward Carl Hall tipped in Early’s miss to put the Shockers up two with 67 seconds to go, but it turned out to be their last points of the night. Pendleton lost his defender on a drive left with a nifty spin move, and didn’t have a sniff of a Wichita State defender between him and the basket.
His layup tied the game for the last time. The Salukis got the ball back when Armstead’s short jumper was ruled to have been released after the shot clock expired, and didn’t give it back until 1.2 seconds remained.
Pendleton got past his defender near the perimeter and lofted up a runner toward the rim. Ehimen Orukpe, Wichita State’s 7-foot center who was the only defender between Pendleton and the rim, jumped up and deflected Pendleton’s shot in the middle of the lane. He was called for goaltending, giving SIU the lead.
Carl Hall’s last-second 3-pointer fell short, setting off a celebration on the SIU sideline, led by Jeff Early and his former Monroe (N.Y.) College teammate, Lindsay.
“We talked, like, ‘Man, are we gonna get past eight (wins)?’ and it’s like a road block. You can’t get past it,” Early said. “I didn’t know when we were going to get past that. It’s our first top 25 win as a Saluki. I hugged ‘T’ after the game and we finally got that top 25 win since we’ve been talking in juco. It just feels good. We’re so much better than our record is, and I think that’s an advantage for us.”
On Twitter: @Todd_Hefferman