LAS VEGAS — With the odds stacked against them, the SIU's men's basketball team rose to the occasion Saturday to earn a victory it may talk about three months from now.
Starting point guard Marcus Bartley saw a Las Vegas chiropractor before the game but couldn't go because of a lower back injury, according to coach Barry Hinson, and Tyler Smithpeters delivered nine points, three rebounds and two huge defensive plays in a 74-64 victory over Duqesne.
"Other people gotta step up," Smithpeters said. "Rudy (Stradnieks) did a great job today. Really, everybody did. Everbody stepped up. It was a must-win for us. We wanted to go into conference with some momentum, and that's what we did."
Sean Lloyd scored 19 points, including six in the final five minutes, and SIU (8-5) converted all seven of its free-throw attempts in the final minute to split its two games at the Orleans Arena. Without starting forward Thik Bol, Bartley or backup guard Eric McGill, the Salukis got four players into double figures and held Duquesne (9-4) without a field goal the last 2:16.
"We've been fighting through adversity the whole non-conference, so, that was nothing new to us," Lloyd said.
Back-to-back Lloyd layups lifted SIU to a 59-55 lead with 3:45 to go, but Dukes guard Tarin Smith nearly pulled his team all the way back. The 6-foot-2 junior converted a drive over the right side to pull the Dukes within two, and got them within one with a 3-pointer from the left side with 2:11 left. Aaron Cook responded with four big points, two at the free-throw line and two off a high-arcing shot in the lane that bounced off the window and through in the final two minutes.
Smith scored a game-high 26 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He made 9 of 10 at the free-throw line, but missed two big shots in the final minute that might have gotten Duquesne within one possession. Smith left a layup short with his club down 68-64, and rattled a 3-pointer from the right side halfway down and out.
Smithpeters came up with a big steal off Eric Williams Jr. when he came down and swiped at the basketball. Smithpeters was fouled by Duquesne forward/center Chas Brown, which fouled him out, and converted 1 of 2 at the free-throw line for a four-point lead.
Armon Fletcher scored 12 points and Kavion Pippen added 10 for SIU. Stradnieks added eight points and three boards off the bench.
Mike Lewis scored 13 and Williams had 10 for Duquesne, which allowed 70 or more points for only the fourth time this season.
SIU is next at Northern Iowa Thursday night in the Missouri Valley Conference opener. Hinson was unsure if Bartley would be back for that game, but did say Bol is expected to start practicing this week. He is not expected to play against the Panthers.