CARBONDALE — For 20 minutes Wednesday night the Southern Illinois University basketball team couldn’t buy a 3-pointer.
The Salukis managed a 27-23 halftime lead over St. Louis University without the benefit of a 3-pointer. Yet, the trey played a pivotal role in SIU’s 61-56 win over the Billikens, their sixth in the last seven games.
SIU wasn’t stellar from the arc in the second half, 4 of 11, but they were good enough to build a 10-point cushion late in the game.
That halftime lead evaporated quickly. Belleville Althoff graduate Jordan Goodwin tied the game at 28 on a pair of free throws just 75 seconds into the second half.
However, 14 seconds later Armon Fletcher stepped into a 3-pointer on the wing, giving the Salukis a 31-28 advantage. SIU never relinquished that lead.
"You know playing basketball, sometimes the shots don’t fall when you want them to, but you know you’re trained to keep shooting through the misses and not get down on yourself," Fletcher said. "That’s what great players do. They think ‘Next play, next shot.’ We did that tonight."
While the Billkens never regained the lead, they never went away either. The Salukis had a six-point lead midway through the half when Eric McGill stared down a trey from the left wing. Saint Louis’ Hasahn French had just missed a free throw and Marcus Bartley pushed the ball up the floor. Bartley fed the ball to McGill, standing wide open on the wing.
McGill looked twice before shooting the ball, and despite the extra look, the ball went down.
About a minute later, Sean Lloyd went on a personal five-point run, the final three points coming from behind the arc with 7:59 remaining. Lloyd’s jumper put the Salukis on top 50-40 with the first double-digit lead of the game.
"Once you see one of your teammates knock down a 3, it propels everybody," Fletcher said. "It gets the bench going. It gets the crowd going. It gets the other players going, ‘I might knock one down too.’ So, everybody is just feeding off each other."
The Salukis finished the game with 18 shots from the arc, slightly under their season average.
"I’ll say this, other than one 3, I don’t think we took a bad 3," said SIU coach Barry Hinson. "And, I thought when we shot them, I thought all of them were in except the one on the baseline in front of our bench. It went under the goal. I knew it wasn’t going in.
"I thought our shot selection tonight was pretty good to be honest."
On the other end of the floor, the Salukis tried to prod the Billikens into shooting jumpers. Their strategy worked. The Billikens fired up 26 treys, converting just six. Overall, the Billikens shot just 33 percent from the field.
"Man, that was the No. 1," said Fletcher. "They are such a good team when they get in the paint. We try to play this pack line defense that we’ve been working on so much. We keep getting better and better at it. We knew Saint Louis wasn’t really a very good 3-point shooting team going into it, so that was our emphasis."
"Every timeout, we never talked about shooting," Hinson said. "Our numbers were awful tonight, from the free throw line, from the 3-point line. We ended up shooting 45 percent on one of the best defensive teams in the country, and we had a really bad offensive night. All we talked about was defend and rebound. That’s all we ever talked about."