CARBONDALE — At crunch time the Southern Illinois University women produced.
With 5:51 remaining, SIU found itself trailing 53-52. However, improved movement off the ball and better ball movement allowed the Salukis to finish on a 17-7 run and take down the University of Tennessee-Martin 70-59.
The Salukis went on a 9-0 run over a 1:46 span to take control of the game late.
Makenzie Silvey started the run with a layup in heavy traffic. After the Salukis forced a turnover, Silvey drew a foul and made one of two free throws for a 56-52 advantage. In the next two possessions, Silvey and Kristen Nelson hit back-to-back treys and SIU found itself leading 62-52.
“We just finally started to cut and find gaps in the zone,” Silvey said. “A lot of times we were just getting stagnant standing, our ball movement wasn’t there. Once we were cutting and finding the gaps the ball movement was there and that usually ended up with a pretty good shot for us.”
The decisive Saluki run came with three bench players, Awa Keita, Gabby Walker and Caitlin Link on the floor.
“Our depth is really, really good,” Nelson said. “If they aren’t scoring, they’re doing something well on defense. Gabby and Awa are tough in the post and they’re hard to guard.”
And, Stein had no qualms putting her bench players on the floor at crunch time.
“I felt like there was no way we could play that hard, like you have to against them,” she said. “I didn’t think anyone was going to be able to play the entire time in the fourth quarter. I do have complete confidence in Awa and Gabby and they both gave us great minutes and made big plays. I thought Link did a good job handling that last three minutes.”
The Saluki run was the last in a game of runs.
UT-Martin opened the game scoring the first nine points. The Salukis answered with an 18-0 run that overlapped the first and second quarters.
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“If you look at the defense, there was a lot of fouls, a lot of turnovers,” Stein said. “Both teams were playing physical. There was a lot of screening action going on. The game just lent itself to that. We talked about the team that was the grittiest was going to come out. You have to find those moments and some success among the chaos.”
SIU committed 17 turnovers in the game. The Salukis struggled with the Skyhawks’ 1-3-1 zone most of the night.
“It’s just that they are so long,” Stein said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. They are so lanky and athletic. They take away your passing lanes and close the gaps pretty quick.
“I’ve not see them play it this long. They played it more in this game than I’ve seen them play. They’ve played it a lot, but not an entire game. We talked about what we needed to do against it. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t. They disrupt a lot of stuff.”
But, with the game on the line, the Salukis made enough plays for a comfortable margin.
“It’s funny,” stein said. “We didn’t take care of the ball like I wanted to. We didn’t rebound like we wanted to and we didn’t shoot free throws like we wanted to, but we won. So, we’re going to take that ‘W’ and run. I thought we did have good play periodically.”
Silvey led the Salukis with 20 points while Nelson had 14. Abby Brockmeyer scored 11 points and Nicole Martin had 10. Nelson was 4-of-6 from the floor, 5-of-6 from the line with two assists and two steals.
“I felt like she came up with some big deflections,” Stein said. “She had some good passes and took the shots that she was very capable of making and kind of stayed within herself. She definitely helped us bring the ball up and handle the pressure. She definitely had a very complete game.”
Chelsey Perry led the Skyhawks with 24 points and Maddie Waldrop had 16.
The Salukis return to action at SEMO on Saturday.