CARBONDALE — If Desmar Jackson wasn’t convinced before the World Vision Classic, he is now. By focusing on his defense first, Jackson took his game to new heights during SIU’s 1-2 run in Logan, Utah.

The 6-foot-5 guard/forward scored a season-high 29 points in the Salukis’ 70-58 loss at Utah State on Saturday night. It was the Wyoming transfer’s fourth 20-point game of the season and his second straight at the World Vision Classic.

“I came out with intensity on defense, once again. From now on, I think I’m going to play like that here on out,” Jackson said.

Jackson had four steals in the Salukis’ last game of the three-day, three-game event at the Smith Spectrum. Friday night against Nicholls State, when SIU captured its only win of the weekend, Jackson scored 21 points and grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds. Entering Missouri Valley Conference play, Jackson leads the Salukis in scoring (16.1 points per game), steals (27), assists (27) and is tied with forward Dantiel Daniels for the team lead in blocks with 10.

As a result, SIU (7-4) is one win away from matching last season’s total entering league play.

“I think the last two games is the Desmar Jackson that we need in order to be competitive in the Valley,” SIU coach Barry Hinson said. “I go back, it’s simple. It’s really simple. If he’ll go back and play with energy and effort at the defensive end, it will correlate on the offensive end, and as long as he’ll do that, we’ll get better.”

The team split up Sunday for Christmas break. They expect to reconvene on Wednesday in preparation for the Valley opener at Missouri State on Sunday, Dec. 30. The Salukis will play nine games in January, beginning on Jan. 2 against Bradley, the most of any month this season.

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On Twitter: @Todd_Hefferman

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