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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Southern Illinois University held a 54-46 lead over Saint Louis University with 5:36 remaining in Wednesday’s 61-56 win.

Somehow, despite attempting 13 free throws in the final 5:36, the Salukis scored just seven points. At one point, SIU missed four free throws in a row.

SIU’s last field goal came at 4:59. Granted, it was pretty spectacular. Armon Fletcher appeared to be hemmed in by Billikens near the top of the key when he rifled a fast ball to the right of the bucket. Thik Bol streaked down the baseline, snatched the heater out of midair and rammed it through the hoop, re-instating a 56-46 lead.

Offensively, it was the last positive play in the game for SIU.

Struggling to protect the lead, the Salukis committed five turnovers in the final minutes of the game. The turnovers were a result of poor decision making and a suspicion that someone had coated the basketball with Crisco.

Yet, somehow the Salukis managed to secure the win.

How you ask?

A cursory glance at the play-by-play provides the answer. The words “BLOCK by BOL, THIK” appear five times. It’s as if the auto-correct mode stuck.

It’s no secret the Billikens are an average shooting team. Saint Louis fashioned a 6-1 record coming into the SIU Arena by attacking the bucket.

And, that strategy might have worked again if not for Bol. Technically, the Billikens didn’t really attack the basket in the final 5:36 – the ball rarely got to the rim.

With SIU holding a 10-point lead at 5:36, Carte’Are Gordon drove the lane. “BLOCK by BOL, THIK”

The score was still the same when DeMarius Jacobs attempted a layup at the 4:31 mark. “BLOCK by BOL, THIK”

That 10-point lead still held at the 3:53 mark when Jordan Goodwin tried his luck. “BLOCK by BOL, THIK”

The Billikens had cut the lead to 56-49 when Tramaine Isabell dared to take the ball to the rack. “BLOCK by BOL, THIK”

Then, after Javon Bess swiped the ball from Aaron Cook, Isabell went to the basketball again. “BLOCK by BOL, THIK”

If you’re keeping score, that’s five blocks in a span of 3:11. That’s Marvin “The Human Eraser” Webster stuff. (If you’re under 50, you may want to Google that. But, it is a compliment.) For three minutes, Bol was the basketball equivalent of a goalie.

In the postgame presser, SIU coach Barry Hinson was asked about the team’s offensive struggles. Appropriately, he turned the discussion to Bol’s epic work down the stretch. He noted, correctly, that not only did Bol block five shots, he altered several others.

What’s more, Bol also affected the Billikens decision making. At least twice in the final five minutes a Saint Louis player headed toward the bucket only to reverse course rather than taking on Bol.

Hinson said he doesn’t remember seeing such a dominant shot-blocking performance. I don’t either – at least not at the SIU Arena.

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LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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