WICHITA, Kan. — Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson couldn’t hear himself amid the roar in Koch Arena, so he kept stomping on the floor in a fruitless attempt to get his team’s attention.
He’d say later that the crowd was the biggest factor in the game.
The Salukis hung tough for all but about 3 minutes Tuesday tonight, finally falling 78-67 to fourth-ranked Wichita State. It put an end to Southern Illinois’ four-game winning streak, its best in more than four years, while leaving the Shockers still unbeaten.
“Gosh, that crowd,” Hinson said. “I hate them — and I love them. It’s an oxymoron.”
Make no mistake: Hinson loves the passion of Missouri Valley Conference fans. He just wishes he could have better communicated with his players down the stretch, when the game hung in the balance.
Instead, the Salukis (10-16, 6-7) starting turning it over on offense, the Shockers (26-0, 13-0) started getting easy baskets at the other end, and Hinson was left standing on the sideline with his hands on his hips, watching mirthlessly as the final seconds ticked away.
Anthony Beane scored 25 points to lead the Salukis.
“There’s a reason they’re 26-0. They’re damn good,” Hinson said, “but they made shots and that crowd just went nuts, and we came down and said, ‘Hey, it’s close to April 15! We’ll just give you the ball and we’ll get a tax deduction!’”
Ron Baker scored 19 points and Cleanthony Early had 18 for the Shockers, who became the first team to start 26-0 since Memphis in 2008. Five games stand in the way of Wichita State becoming the first team since Saint Joseph’s in 2004 to have a perfect regular season.
The Hawks didn’t lose that year until the Atlantic 10 tournament.
“Just survive,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “That was not our best effort, obviously. They get a lot of credit for that. They had a great game plan. They packed it in and we didn’t make any shots from the arc. It was a good strategy. Finally we made some in the second half and pulled away slowly, but give them credit. They played well.”
The Shockers trailed at halftime for the ninth time during their unbeaten run, though the 33-32 deficit could have been a whole lot worse the way they were shooting the ball.
Wichita State was just 2 of 14 from 3-point range in the first half, most of them missing just about everything. In fact, the only shots the Shockers seemed to make outside of 3 feet were a series of free throws that Early made to keep them within striking distance.
It didn’t help that the Shockers were in foul trouble, too. Baker, Early and Fred VanVleet — their top three scorers — were on the bench with two fouls apiece late in the half.
Once they returned after the break, the Shockers started to pick up steam.
Early converted a three-point play with 15:47 to put them ahead 44-43, the seventh lead change in the game. Baker added a silky-smooth jumper, then knocked down his first 3 moments later as Wichita State took control and Koch Arena suddenly got rocking.
Beane refused to let the Salukis wilt under the pressure.
The sophomore guard kept slicing through Wichita State’s man-to-man defense for baskets near the rim, more than once drawing contact along the way. When the Shockers finally clamped down on him, he deftly found the open teammate for wide-open looks.
Jalen Pendleton’s three-point play pulled the Salukis to 69-64 with 2½ minutes left, but Baker answered with his third 3-pointer. The Shockers turned up the pressure and forced Sean O’Brien into a turnover that led to a run-out by Baker, who was fouled and made both free throws.
Still with a chance to make it a game, Southern Illinois promptly turned it over again, and this time the Salukis allowed VanVleet to go for an uncontested layup that made it 76-64.
Wichita State merely had to coax the final seconds off the clock to remain undefeated.
“It’s cool, you know?” Early said. “But we take it game by game, day by day. I don’t think we’re looking at an undefeated season because you have to beat the team that’s in front of you.”