The funny thing about sports … sometimes your best isn’t good enough.
And, in the case of the Saluki women’s basketball team, sometimes seven minutes of near perfection can overcome 33 minutes of mediocrity.
Streams of unconsciousness from the world of sports:
To say the Salukis struggled in the first 33 minutes of their stunning come-from-behind win over Indiana State would be polite. SIU appeared to be color blind the first three quarters of the game. Time and again Saluki passes would land in Indiana State hands – SIU had 19 turnovers after three quarters, 13 of those were Indiana State steals.
And, three minutes into the fourth quarter the game hadn’t markedly changed trajectory. SIU appeared to be riding an Indiana State snowball down a precipitous cliff.
Sure, Kylie Giebelhausen’s trey cut the SIU deficit to nine points with 6:18 to play, but a comeback still seemed unrealistic. SIU was struggling to score and Indiana State was still playing with confidence.
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Then, about a minute later Giebelhausen hit another trey. Then, with just 4:57 to play, Nicole Martin swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key. A little perspective for those of you who are not Saluki fans. Martin is SIU’s center. She had attempted just four treys all year. It was her second make of the season.
If you believe in omens, this is where the comeback begins to feel realistic.
MVC Freshman of the Year Abby Brockmeyer hit a pair of free throws with 3:43 to play, cutting the deficit to just one. While the game is officially wide open at this point, you worry about a team expending so much energy to catch up that they suffer a letdown.
Not last Friday. Not these Salukis.
After an Indiana State turnover, Makenzie Silvey found Martin alone under the basket. Her chip shot gave the Salukis a one-point lead with 3:04 remaining – the first time the entire game SIU had the lead.
In a seven-minute span the Salukis had erased an 18-point deficit.
The NCAA basketball bacchanal will begin in two weeks.
And, this young team, SIU has just one senior on the roster, kept their collective foot on the accelerator.
Ashi O’Neal, Indiana State’s quicksilver point guard, split the Saluki defense for an apparent layup. Martin swatted it aside. The Sycamores retained possession, but Brittney Patrick, the smallest Saluki on the floor, rebounded Ashley Taia’s miss.
That defensive stand resulted in another Giebelhausen jumper and a three-point advantage.
Nursing a two-point lead, another turnover tested the Salukis’ mettle, but Martin picked off an Indiana State pass to preserve the lead with just over a minute to play.
The Salukis proved to be human during those final moments, missing five-of-eight free throws. However, Giebelhausen rebounded one of the misses and turned that play into another free throw.
Despite those heroics, the Sycamores had a chance to win in the final 14 seconds. The Salukis didn’t claim victory until Celina VanHyfte blocked Regan Wentland’s 3-point attempt and ran down the ball with a second remaining.
As Saluki coach Cindy Stein noted in the postgame presser, the most satisfying thing about the comeback was that virtually everyone in SIU’s regular rotation made a big play in the final seven minutes.
Stein platooned in offensive and defensive situations over the final seven minutes. The Salukis enjoyed a 20-8 scoring advantage over that stretch while holding the Sycamores to just a single field goal.
On this occasion, nearly perfect was just good enough.