TERRE HAUTE – For five animated minutes, Barry Hinson sat at the podium in the basement of the Hulman Center and made a case for his competitive, yet still struggling team.
The first year head coach of Southern Illinois lauded his team for their efforts and said they were more than a “joke” which some considered him.
At the same time, however, he made sure to point out his opponents Saturday afternoon were the exact opposite.
“I felt like we played the hottest team in the country,” said Hinson of Indiana State-and he might be right.
The Sycamores came into their Saturday match-up with Hinson’s Salukis winners of four-of-their-last-five games, including a 19-point win over No. 13 Creighton at home earlier in the week.
But even the hottest teams are prone to cool-and it was the enthusiastic coach’s team that almost made that happen.
Southern Illinois led most of the game and had a one-point lead late in the game before Indiana State finally awoke to live up to Hinson’s hype. The Sycamores took the lead in the final 20 seconds then held off a late Saluki flurry to escape with a 66-65 victory on Saturday afternoon.
Jake Odom hit a lay-up with 18 seconds left to give Indiana State a one-point lead which held up when Southern Illinois Jalen Coleman’s baseline shot was off the mark at the buzzer. The result while rewarding was somewhat humbling for the Sycamores (16-8, 9-4 in the MVC), who narrowly avoided losing to the Salukis for a second time this season.
“They handed it to us down there, they did the same thing to us today,” said Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing, referring to Southern Illinois’ 76-71 win over the Sycamores January 12th in Carbondale. “The only reason we won today is because we were at home and our fans kinda helped us get through.
“Commend Southern Illinois we didn’t deserve to win and they did but I think our fans got us through that one.”
It was tough to get those Sycamore rooters enthusiastic early as Southern Illinois proved to be the aggressors in the beginning. Indiana State didn’t hit a bucket for the first four minutes of the game and watched the Salukis hit their first five shots in taking a 13-1 lead.
“They’re a good group of guys, they’re unselfish…I don’t know,” said Lansing when asked about the slow start. “Maybe it’s what I say to them pre-game. Maybe I’m different before the Creighton game than I was today.”
One person who changed for the positive was Khristian Smith, who got the home team back into it with 12 first half points and even got them to the lead with a lay-up at 29-27 with just over two minutes left.
Southern Illinois went on another run again at the end of the first half to grab a three-point lead at the break. Just like the start of the game the Salukis came out fast and pushed the lead to ten in the first four minutes. But the poor free throw shooting by the visitors (9-for-20 in the second half) allowed the Sycamores to slowly climb back into the game.
Odum tied the game with a bucket with 3:09 left and RJ Mahurin did the same with just over two minutes left with a three-pointer. Odum put the Sycamores ahead with a pair of free throws on the next Indiana State possession but Coleman (team-high 17 points) got a three-pointer play with 1:09 left to give Southern Illinois the lead.
After missing a chance to tie the game on the next possession Mahurin got the Sycamores the ball back with 36 seconds left when he took a charge. Odum then took the ball at half court on the next possession and drove in for the game-winner that helped the Sycamores escape.
“The games we’ve played against them this year have been some of the toughest we’ve had in the conference,” said Odom, who finished with 13 points and helped Indiana State stay a half-game behind Creighton for first in the MVC. “They really came to play today and knocked us in the mouth.
“Credit to our guys we really hung in there.”
Enough to keep the “hottest team in the country” on the same path.