ST. LOUIS — Southern Illinois pulled off the only upset of the MVC quarterfinals in the final matchup of the day. The sixth-seeded Salukis knocked off No. 3 seed Northern Iowa, 63-58.
Southern Illinois (14-18, 9-9 MVC) grabbed an 18-point halftime lead that grew to 19 in the opening minutes of the second period. The Salukis looked as good as any team at this year’s MVC Tournament, and they played with high energy.
“Guys, I’ve been in this tournament a lot,” Southern Illinois head coach Barry Hinson said. Hinson is in only his second year with the Salukis but spent nine seasons with Missouri State from 1999-2008. “That’s the best first half of basketball I’ve ever coached a group of young men, and I told them that.”
Northern Iowa (16-15, 10-8) made a few runs to catch the Salukis, but the big one started with 5:37 to play. Sophomore guard Matt Bohannon drained a 3-pointer to cut Southern Illinois’ lead to 52-44. Freshman Jeremy Morgan followed that with his own triple, and then junior Nate Buss sunk a layup.
Two possessions later, junior forward Seth Tuttle drained a pair of free throws to tie the score at 52-52.
Saluki freshman Bola Olaniyan had the big-time response with an old-fashioned 3-point play, and sophomore Anthony Beane converted a pair at the charity stripe on the next possession.
Northern Iowa sophomore Wes Washpun cut the Panthers’ deficit back to a deuce in the final minute, but the Panthers could never again tie or lead the Salukis. Beane made a layup to make the difference two possessions.
“I thought that what was great about our team, we just stayed together when they started going on their runs,” Beane said. “When we went into timeouts, nobody was down. Everybody was together.”
Beane finished with 16 points, including nine in the second half. Beane picked up the slack when senior guard Desmar Jackson, who led the Salukis with 23 points, became a non-factor offensively for most of the second period. 20 of Jackson’s points came in the first half, and his points in the second came with 16:45 to play.
Jackson remained a factor on the glass, finishing with 11 boards, and he also snagged six steals to tie a season-high.
Freshman guard Tyler Smithpeters struggled from the field for Southern Illinois but packed the stat sheet. The Harrisburg, Ill., native finished with nine points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Northern Iowa’s stellar frontcourt of Tuttle and Buss led the Panthers to a near-victory. Tuttle posted his seventh double-double of the season with 15 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks. Buss added 10 points and eight boards off the bench.
Southern Illinois will face No. 2 seed Indiana State in Saturday’s second semifinal. It will be the Salukis’ first semifinal appearance since 2007.
“I think Saluki basketball is trying to turn the corner,” Hinson said. “I’m not going to get overly optimistic because, to me, you just got to find a way to continue to get better.”