CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP)—Darren Brooks keeps hitting big shots and No. 16 Southern Illinois just keeps on winning.
Brooks had 14 points and made a long jumper with 1:36 left to make it a two-possession game to seal a 68-60 win over Creighton on Tuesday night. It was the 15th straight win for the Salukis (23-2, 16-0 Missouri Valley), who have already clinched their third consecutive conference title with two games left in the season.
“Darren steps up and makes big plays, whether it’s making a shot or making a defensive stop,” Southern Illinois coach Matt Painter said. “At the end he just steps up, pulls up and makes an 18-footer when we desperately needed it.
“That was probably the shot of the game.”
The late-game heroics are nothing new for Brooks.
In a game two weeks ago, Brooks made a go-ahead 3-pointer and then rebounded his own missed shot with 24 seconds left in a 59-58 victory over Southwest Missouri State.
“If he has the ball in his hands, I’m pretty sure he’s going to go to the basket or he’s going to shoot a jumper over somebody,” Stetson Hairston said. “I know he’s going to make a play.”
The Salukis are two wins away from finishing with a perfect record in the league for the first time in school history.
And like most of their victories, this was a close one.
Southern Illinois had a 17-point lead in the second half when the Bluejays (19-6, 11-5) got it down to 48-44. Reserve Kellen Miliner hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Nate Funk nailed another 3 to cap a 19-6 run for Creighton to open the second half.
Creighton later cut the deficit to 61-58 when Brooks came up with the key shot just inside the 3-point line. After a steal by Hairston, Brooks made a free throw to extend the lead back to six points with a minute left.
The loss was the third in the last four games for the Bluejays, who started the season 12-0 only to sputter in conference play.
They were also swept by the Salukis.
“They are the quickest team I’ve seen in the (league) in the 10 years I’ve been here and they use that quickness very well,” Creighton coach Dana Altman said.
LaMar Owen had 12 points for Southern Illinois, and Brad Korn and Hairston 10 apiece.
Southern Illinois led 18-15 when a 13-2 run extended the margin to 14. Bryan Turner started the spurt with a 3-pointer, and Owen scored eight straight points during the run.
Hairston hit a 3 from the corner with 5 seconds left to give the Salukis a 40-25 halftime lead. Southern Illinois forced 12 turnovers in the first half and held the Bluejays to 39-percent shooting.
Painter, a first-year coach who replaced Bruce Weber when he left for Illinois, said he made a rookie mistake at halftime.
“I have a friend who says when you’re up a bunch at half, yell at them,” he said. “I didn’t yell at them. I probably should have. It’s human nature to kind of relax.”
The Bluejays kept it close down the stretch, but hurt themselves with 20 turnovers and never were able to take the lead.
The winning streak for Southern Illinois is the school’s best since a Walt Frazier-led team won 19 in a row in 1966-67 and the NIT title.
Funk led the Bluejays with 15 points, and Brody Deren had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
The loss probably ended any hope of Creighton receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Creighton had made the NCAA tourney each of the past five seasons, a streak matched by only one other team in the conference’s history.
Creighton has lost its last 21 road games against ranked opponents.