SW Missouri State 80, No. 15 Southern Illinois 74
ST. LOUIS (AP)—Southwest Missouri State coach Barry Hinson is within one win of fulfilling a dream.
“I’ve never been to the NCAA tournament as a head coach or as an assistant coach,” Hinson said. “It’s been a lifelong dream of mine because I’ve always wanted my dad to see his son coach in an NCAA tournament game.”
Hinson will get his chance to make it Monday night, because the Bears upset No. 15 Southern Illinois 80-74 in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament Sunday.
The Salukis (25-4) won the regular-season title with a 17-1 conference record and are still expected to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament—as they have the past two years.
The last 10 MVC regular-season champions have reached the NCAAs, but it’s been six years since the regular-season champ won the MVC tournament.
“It wasn’t like we laid an egg today,” Southern Illinois coach Matt Painter said. “We tried today, but Southwest Missouri played better. We simply couldn’t stop them.”
Merrill Andrews scored 16 points, and Blake Ahearn and Anthony Shavies added 14 apiece for fifth-seeded Southwest Missouri (19-13). The Bears will play Northern Iowa, a 63-56 winner over Wichita State in the other semifinal, in the title game Monday night for an automatic bid to the NCAAs.
“We knew we had nothing to lose and we came out and just played hard,” Andrews said. “SIU had everything to lose.”
It’s been nine years since Southern Illinois has won the conference tournament.
Southwest Missouri has lost its last three trips to the championship game and has not won the MVC tournament since 1992.
The Bears had lost six in a row and eight of their last nine games against the Salukis. It was the third consecutive year the teams met in the tournament semifinals.
Shavies snapped a 55-55 tie on a jumper with 5:58 to play. After Josh Warren hit a free throw for the Salukis, the Bears went on a 7-0 run with Andrews scoring four points and Tamarr Maclin, who finished with 12 points, making three free throws.
Darren Brooks, who led Southern Illinois with 15 points, hit a jumper, but Andrews countered with a three-point play, giving Southwest Missouri its largest lead at 70-61 with 2:50 remaining.
Southern Illinois’ Brad Korn, who scored 14 points, left with 4:50 to play when he ran into Maclin, who was setting a screen just past the midcourt line. Korn fell and was on the floor for a while before being helped off the court.
He was OK after the game, but the loss of Korn hurt the Salukis.
“After he left the game, you lose your focus,” Sylvester Willis said. “Instead of thinking about making a play, you’re wondering if he’s all right. We needed him down the stretch. I guess we just can’t win in St. Louis.”
Southwest Missouri outscored Southern Illinois 36-23 in the paint. The Bears made 46 percent of their shots, while the Salukis shot 39 percent. Southwest Missouri made 27 of 32 free throws, and Southern Illinois made 25 of 35 attempts. Each team had 37 rebounds.
The Salukis led by as many as eight, 12-4. The Bears closed to 16-15 before Southern Illinois went on a 9-4 run to lead 25-19.
Ahearn scored eight consecutive points on two free throws and two 3-pointers to put Southwest Missouri ahead 27-25 with 3:39 left in the first half. A basket by Willis tied it at 27 for the Salukis.
A free throw by Shavies put the Bears back on top, but Korn scored with 1:03 left in the half for a 29-28 lead. Maclin hit a free throw with 30 seconds remaining, and it was tied at 29 at halftime.