By Steve Maves
The Southern Illinois Salukis fell in a 85-78 heart breaker to the Evansville Purple Aces on Thursday night at SIU Arena in overtime.
The game was a battle from the beginning really showing why these two teams are at the top of the Missouri Valley Conference. SIU had momentum throughout the first half as senior Anthony Beane scored 18 of the teams 35 first half points on 8 of 12 shooting, but again SIU was unable to close out the half. The Salukis turned the ball over with under 6 seconds left in the half and the MVC leading scorer D.J. Balentine hit a three pointer at the top of the key as time expired to bring the Aces to within 3.
The second half was much of the same as these two teams battled back and forth throughout and the Purple Aces were able to tie the game at 37 and started to gain momentum, but SIU coach Barry Hinson let the team play it out and good thing he did. With the score 44-42 Beane was able to get the foul line and make one of two, but with a defensive stop SIU started to gain momentum again as Beane nailed a three pointer from the right wing to increase the lead to six then a Mike Rodriguez steal and bucket forced Evansville to call a timeout trailing by 8.
After that Evansville timeout it was a nail-bitter the rest of the game. Evansville was able to tie the game back up at 50 and take their first lead with just over 11 minutes left in the second half.
SIU continued to show their relentlessness as they were able to increase their lead with 1:35 to 68-65, but a three pointer by Aces Mislav Brzoja tied the game up with 33 seconds left.
The Salukis were running down the clock to get a final shot and with 10 seconds left Bola Olaniyan caught the pass from Anthony Beane under the basket with no where to go and the shot clock running down. Olaniyan found Leo Vincent behind the three-point line of the left wing and Vincent drilled the shot and the crowd of over 6,300 went crazy.
Evansville still had a chance with just over 6 seconds left they were able to move the ball to just past half court using timeouts they had it in a good position to run a play with 4.9 seconds left.
Everyone in the arena knew that Balentine was going to get the ball for a game tying shot and that is exactly who got it. With Leo Vincent guarding him Balentine received the ball and took three dribbles to his left made a step back move and shot over Vincent for a game tying three, which sent the game into overtime.
There was a lot of talk about fouling or not fouling and Coach Barry Hinson talked about the plan to foul during that play.
“We were going to foul,” Hinson said, “I went and talked to both officials and told them we were going to foul.”
After that shot by Balentine the game was all but over for SIU as they were all hanging their heads and had no energy left to play another 5 minutes. And that is exactly what happened, as Evansville was able to jump out quick in the overtime period and outscored SIU 14-7 in the extra period.
This was a very hard fought game by both teams and a very emotional way to end a great game.
“This one hurt a lot,” Hinson said. “Thirteen guys in that locker room, and some of them were crying.”
Evansville was led in scoring by D.J. Balentine with 25 on 8 of 18 shooting and a career night from Mislav Brzoja also with 25 on 9 of 12 shooting. The Purple Aces had four players in double digits. They scored 34 points in the paint and 25 points off the bench, which all came from Brzoja.
SIU was led in scoring by Anthony Beane with 30 on 10 of 21 from the field and also Sean O’Brien who pitched in 16 on 7 of 13 shooting. The Salukis had 14 offensive rebounds and 15 2nd chance points they also lead the game for just over 34 minutes.
Evansville’s next game will be Sunday afternoon at MVC leader Wichita State at 3 pm on ESPNU.
SIU’s next game is also Sunday as they head to Northern Iowa at 3 pm on ESPN3. SIU beat Northern Iowa earlier this season 75-73, but the Salukis have never won at McLeod Center 0-11 all-time.