SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP)—The shot Darren Brooks made gave Southern Illinois the lead. What Brooks did with the shot he missed sealed the 23rd-ranked Salukis’ win.
Brooks scored 19 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with just over 2 minutes left, and rebounded his own missed shot with 24 seconds left in Southern Illinois’ 59-58 victory over Southwest Missouri State on Saturday.
“When we play SMS, we write on the board, ‘Rebound War,”’ Southern Illinois coach Matt Painter said. “If you win the battle of the boards, you’re going to beat them.”
Stetson Hairston had two clutch free throws and added 15 points for the Salukis (20-2, 14-0 Missouri Valley Conference), who reached the 20-win mark for the third straight season and extended their winning streak over the Bears (15-10, 7-7) to six games.
Southern Illinois won its 12th straight and stayed perfect in conference play despite shooting just 36 percent (24-for-66) from the field.
“I wouldn’t say we’re lucky,” Brooks said. “I’d say we’re a good team. We had to step up and make plays, and that’s what happened.”
The Salukis trailed 26-25 at halftime and never led by more than six points in the second half.
The Salukis led 50-44 on Hairston’s three-point play with 9:38 left, but Merrill Andrews scored six points in an 8-0 run that gave Southwest Missouri State a 52-50 lead with 5:40 to go.
The lead changed hands twice more, the last time on Brooks’ 3-pointer that put Southern Illinois up 57-55.
With 27 seconds to go and the shot clock winding down, Brooks missed from the top of the key but tracked down the ball in the corner. He passed to Hairston, who hit two free throws with 16 seconds left before Blake Ahearn hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for Southwest Missouri State.
Ahearn, the NCAA’s most accurate free throw shooter (98.9 percent) coming into the game, had a rough time from the line on Saturday.
The freshman point guard, who missed only one of his first 93 tries and was perfect through the Bears’ first 13 conference games, had his streak end at 60 when he missed the first of two with 12:27 left.
He missed the front end of a 1-and-1 later in the second half, finishing with 12 points.
“I just missed,” Ahearn said. “There’s not much more I can say. I go up there every time knowing I’m going to make it, and I thought I was going to make those shots.”
Nathan Bilyeu also had 12 points for the Bears, including a shot from the lane that gave them their last lead, 55-54, with 1:22 left. Deven Mitchell and Monwell Randle each added 10 points for Southwest Missouri State.
Brad Korn, who came in as Southern Illinois’ second-leading scorer at 9.9 points per game, missed his first seven field goal attempts and finished with four points on 1-for-10 shooting.
He had a key offensive rebound late in the game, though, tracking down Bryan Turner’s missed shot with a minute left. That set up the possession on which Brooks had the clutch rebound of his own miss.
Southwest Missouri State had a 22-17 rebounding edge in the first half, which helped to offset the Bears’ 10 turnovers, but the Salukis outrebounded them 21-12 in the second half.
“We were only down two, and all we had to do was get a rebound and go the other way,” Randle said. “We never came up with it.”