LAS VEGAS - "Find a way," Kendal Brown-Surles muttled, slapping hands with his Southern Illinois University teammates Saturday. "Find a way."
Trailing San Diego by 11 points with 3:42 to play at the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic, the Salukis did just that.
With Brown-Surles on the bench after fouling out and five others with four personals, SIU tied the game and won it in the final minute. Justin Bocot scored two of his game-high 22 at the free-throw line to knot it at 68, and Carlton Fay sealed the Salukis' 70-68 win with two more at the foul line.
"I just didn't want to let up," said Bocot, who hit four of his last five shots to spur the rally. "We were going to keep fighting until the last buzzer went off, and that's what we did."
USD (5-7) nearly put SIU away at the free-throw line, hitting 27-of-32 to SIU's 18-of-22, but couldn't get there in the final three minutes. A Clinton Houston free throw put the Toreros up 68-57 with 3:42 to play. USD then missed its last five shots, three of them layups, to fall for the sixth time in its last seven games.
Bocot cut the lead to eight with one of his four 3-pointers. Kevin Dillard then made it a five-point game, 68-63, with his only 3-pointer of the night at the 1:53 mark. It was the closest SIU had been since the 15:06 mark of the second half.
Bocot made sure they got closer. After Dillard stole the ball from USD forward Chris Lewis, Bocot missed an open 3-pointer. Fay came up with the offensive rebound along the right baseline, and this time Bocot made a 3-pointer, making it 68-66. He then got in front of USD guard Patrick McCollum on defense, forcing a loose ball before McCollum could get off a shot. Nick Evans came up with the ball, and found Bocot streaking upcourt with only one man to beat.
McCollum caught him in time to foul him with 28 seconds to go. Bocot rattled in both free throws to tie the game and bring the small contingent of Saluki fans to their feet.
The Toreros tried to hold the ball for the last shot, but McCollum threw up a 10-footer as he drove along the left baseline. His jumper landed short, and as Evans and Fay went for the rebound, Houston was called for an over-the-back foul with 2.5 seconds to go. Fay calmly sank both free throws to give SIU the lead for good. McCollum's last-ditch heave from half-court fell off the left side of the rim, sending SIU to an improbable victory.
"We did a lot of things wrong today, but we just played hard, and they got to where they were just shooting free throws every time down the court," Fay said. "Fortunately, they missed a couple, and we were able to capitalize."
Bocot finished 7-of-9 from the field, including 4-of-5 from behind the 3-point line.
"It just came down to knuckling down at the defensive end," Bocot said. "We just had to get it done in the end. We were down 11 with three minutes left, so you know we've got fight in us if we were able to pull off a win like this."
Dillard had 17 points and Fay added 11 for the Salukis, who will try to follow up one of their most impressive wins with another one tonight against San Francisco (3-8). SIU and the Dons tip off at 6:15 p.m.
South Florida 69, San Francisco 48: The Bulls (9-2) led 39-25 at the half and never trailed in the second half in Game 3 of the Classic.
Dominique Jones had 19 of his 23 points in the first half to lead the Bulls. Chris Howard had 14 points and seven boards. Jarrid Famous added 11 points and 10 rebounds for South Florida.
Backup guard Michael Williams led San Francisco (3-8) with 12 points.
The Dons' leading scorer, forward Dior Lowhorn, was 2-of-9 from the floor in 17 minutes. Lowhorn, the West Coast Conference's scoring leader the last two seasons, finished with five points and one rebound.