CARBONDALE — Moments after one of its best defensive possessions of Sunday's game against Valparaiso, SIU's men's basketball team nearly pulled off one of its best offensive ones, too.
Down one in the final minute at the Banterra Center, the Salukis forced the only shot clock violation of the night for the Brown and Gold to get the ball back. Sophomore guard Steven Verplancken Jr. caught the inbounds pass with about four seconds to play going toward the basket, met a wall of Valpo defenders, and pivoted toward the rim right before the horn. His shot from the left side of the rim fell short, however, and the Salukis fell 66-65 in the first game of a two-game series.
"It wasn’t the prettiest and there are things we can continue to do better," Valpo coach Matt Lottich said. "Southern grinds you. They work the ball on offense, they clog the paint on 'D.' Our guys, for the most part, did a good job of taking what the defense gave them."
Neither team scored the final three minutes, as Valpo (9-15, 6-9 Missouri Valley Conference) pulled a full two games ahead of SIU (10-11, 4-11) with three to play in the regular season. The same two teams square off at 6 p.m. Monday on ESPN+ or ESPN3.
Verplancken finished the game 1 of 5 from the field for two points in just under 27 minutes. He missed all three of his 3-point attempts, including one from the left wing that might have put the Salukis ahead with 2:33 to go. SIU converted 8 of 16 from behind the arc in the first half, but finished the game 9 of 23. Valpo made 4 of 10 from the 3-point line in the first half and finished 8 of 21.
Freshman Jacob Ognacevic scored seven of Valpo's last nine points, breaking a 63-all tie with a 3-pointer from the right corner with 3:58 to play. The 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward finished 7 of 10 from the field for 15 points. He added three rebounds, two at the offensive end, one assist and one turnover. Donovan Clay scored 15 points, Ben Krikke and Eron Gordon added nine each, and Sheldon Edwards and Zion Morgan each had eight.
Anthony D'Avanzo led SIU with 16 points, sinking 7 of 9 from the field. D'Avanzo grabbed six boards, made 2 of 3 from the 3-point line, and handed out two of the Salukis' 17 assists on 24 buckets.
"I just tried to bring as much energy as I could to the team, and hoped it was contagious," D'Avanzo said. "I thought we played hard. I thought it was pretty contagious, so, we just didn't come out with the victory."
Ben Harvey had 13 off the bench, and Kyler Filewich and Lance Jones each had 11.
Valpo matched SIU 30-30 inside the paint, but won the game off the boards. The Brown and Gold turned 12 offensive rebounds into 15 second-chance points. The Salukis got outrebounded 32-27 and scored only three second-chance points.
"We gotta do a better job just securing it," SIU coach Bryan Mullins said. "They're long, they're athletic, and without (Daniel) Sackey they play 6-4 and above, so it's one of the longer, bigger teams in our league. We gotta go out-to-in on our blockouts and be physical, and go pursue the ball."
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