CARBONDALE — It was a fitting ending to a frustrating night for the SIU women.
Down three with a chance to perhaps force overtime, the Salukis got leading scorer Makenzie Silvey a wide-open look at a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
But Silvey’s shot banged off the back of the iron inside the final 10 seconds, the last, best gasp at a big Missouri Valley Conference win at Northern Iowa’s expense.
The 60-57 loss was SIU’s second straight by one possession, dropping it to 9-5 overall and 1-2 in the Valley. It came after a game where it created a bevy of point-blank looks in the lane and got 24 free throw attempts, but simply couldn’t make enough shots to win.
The Salukis (9-5, 1-2) hit a team-low 32.2 percent from the field, made only 54.2 percent at the line and were just 6 of 20 from the 3-point arc. Much like Sunday’s 51-49 defeat at Loyola, SIU played well enough defensively to win but let it slip away on the offensive end.
“We didn’t make as many shots as we hoped, and we didn’t make free throws,” said Salukis forward Abby Brockmeyer. “That killed us.”
It was the second straight game in which poor foul shooting has led to an SIU defeat. It was 4 of 11 Sunday at Loyola, and followed that up by going 6 of 14 in the first half. Seven players missed at least one foul shot.
Coach Cindy Stein was not happy with her team’s performance at the stripe.
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“Disappointed in our free throw shooting,” she said. “Free throws have been killing us the last couple of games. If we hit our free throws the last couple of games, we win. Our team has to decide whether that means something to them.”
That made the ending even tougher to swallow for the Salukis. Despite perhaps 10 duffed layups and all the bricks at the line, and despite their top two scorers — Silvey and Nicole Martin — combining to make 7 of 29 from the field, they could have won the game.
Down 60-52 after Nicole Kroeger drained a corner 3 with 2:02 left, SIU held the Panthers (9-4, 1-1) scoreless for the game’s remainder. Silvey swished a top of the key 3-ball with 1:07 remaining to cut the deficit to five, then scored in transition with 22.6 seconds on the clock to bring her team within three.
When 80 percent foul shooter Kam Finley clanked two free throws for UNI, the Salukis had life. Silvey shaking free behind a Gabby Walker screen brought the small gathering of 341 to their feet, believing overtime was a possibility.
“We got a great look at it,” Stein said. “But it didn’t drop.”
There was one more opportunity after Kroeger missed two foul shots with 4.8 seconds left, but Silvey had to rush about a 40-footer that never had a chance.
Poor starts haunted SIU in each half. It trailed 9-1 five minutes into the game, missing its first six shots and 3 of 4 foul shots, then turned a 35-33 halftime edge into a 42-37 third quarter deficit by going nearly 6 ½ minutes without a field goal.
Kristina Cavey scored a game-high 15 points for the Panthers, while Karli Rucker added 14. Silvey’s late burst gave her 10 points to pace the Salukis, while Brockmeyer finished with nine points and 13 rebounds in a solid effort.
There is no time for moping around for SIU. It hosts MVC preseason favorite Drake at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The Bulldogs arrive in town fresh off a come-from-ahead 68-67 loss Friday night at No. 18 Missouri State, which got a buzzer-beater from Sydney Manning.
“We’ve got to bounce back,” Brockmeyer said. “We can’t let this get us down. We’ve got to be ready.”