By Peyton Wesner
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The hottest team in the Missouri Valley Conference, Ben Jacobson’s Northern Iowa Panthers entered Arch Madness as winners of nine of their last ten. Their opponent, Barry Hinson’s Southern Illinois Salukis, was looking to continue a fantastic 2015-16 season in which they finished tied for fourth after being predicted ninth in the preseason poll. Unfortunately, one’s weekend inside the Scottrade Center had to end.
Swiftly inducing their fans into a cheer of U-N-I, Northern Iowa caused four turnovers and ran ahead to a seven point lead before the first media timeout (9-2 UNI). However, a Panthers’ foul on Southern Illinois’ Tyler Smithpeters in the act of shooting a triple, shifted morale and began an 8-2 spurt for the Salukis (11-10 UNI). Yet, this original rally was futile, for UNI bench producer Wyatt Lohaus caught fire on the Mississippi River with all nine of his points in a four minute span (20-12 UNI).
Though, SIU had a secret weapon coming off the bench as well.
Although they were still trailing by eight at the six minute mark, Southern Illinois was the beneficiary of freshman Armon Fletcher doing his best Lohaus impression and swishing back to back twine ticklers from beyond the arc, while withering their opponent’s lead in half. Moreover, only one Panthers’ point in the final 5:21 of the first half, resulted in just a 29-28 UNI edge heading into the intermission.
For the first four minutes and thirty seconds after halftime, the two very good MVC competitors traded baskets as neither could seize full momentum. Or that was until Panthers’ sophomores Klint Carlson and Bennett Koch flexed their muscles in the post and Wes Washpun splashed a trey. 48-36 Northern Iowa!
Southern Illinois senior and All-MVC 1st teamer Anthony Beane, guarded by the very athletic Washpun, was contained to eight points in the first 28 minutes of game action, which can be a main point to attribute the Salukis offensive struggles. All of that changed at the 12 minute mark.
“The Valley’s” second leading scorer pushed the tempo and went straight to the rim, following a Koch made jump-shot, to end a 9-0 Panthers’ domination.
Additionally, Beane was right back in the paint with another made layup after one of Sean O’Brien’s game-high 12 rebounds preceding a made jumper on the ensuing possession. 48-42 UNI! We had ourselves a ball game!
No significant withering of the advantage for the next four minutes, one started to wonder whether or not the Salukis had enough offensive fire power to overcome the small, yet large when playing UNI, seven-point advantage (54-47 UNI)
The answer was yes.
Receiving another huge deuce by Armon Fletcher, SIU found themselves down three (54-51 UNI) and then tied at 56 thanks to an “and one” by the aforementioned. Though, they could not get over the final hump.
Despite tying the Panthers on a O’Brien jumper, Wes Washpun, aka the “human highlight reel,” was able to drive the line, absorb contact, and finish a layup. 60-58 Panthers! Southern Illinois, attempting to go “two-for-one,” quickly set-up the offense and looked for an equalizer. But, instead of having a veteran such as O’Brien or Beane try to tie, the freshman Fletcher fired a trey. Clank! All-MVC honorable mention selection Matt Bohannon grabbed the rebound and swiftly found Jeremy Morgan.
Morgan, the team’s best free throw shooter, was experiencing arguably his best game of his junior campaign, for he walked to the other end with 16 points.
Make it 18!
Calmly swishing both attempts, “J-Mo” increased the margin to two possessions with 28 tics on the scoreboard (62-58 UNI).
Although Beane made possibly the last basket of his career, a layup with 21 seconds remaining in regulation, two made free throws by Bohannon sealed the envelope and a final Salukis’ turnover put it in the mail box.
He Said It (Part I)
“I think it was just the circumstances of the game. It was win or go home. I had to keep my aggression up for the sake of the team. And Beane is a heck of a player. If you’re not aggressive guarding him, then he is liable to go on a 13-0, 14-0 run by himself. You have to stay agressive guarding a guy like that.”
—Northern Iowa Panthers’ guard Wes Washpun on staying aggresive against a player of Anthony Beane’s caliber. The Tennessee transfer had a very efficient 11 points on a 5-of-7 shooting day as well as 4 assists.
He Said It (Part II)
“I missed other ones earlier in the game. I kept telling myself, just shoot it like you’ve been practicing all season. Get in there every day, shooting free throws all the time. So I just told myself to relax and knock them in.”
—Northern Iowa Panthers’ Jeremy Morgan upon being asked about his preparation for free throws in the final minutes of contests. Morgan had a game-high 18 points in addition to 4 rebounds.
He Said It (Part III)
“Yeah, you know, that experience was good for us. We had a tough stretch there in the middle of the season, and we really drew closer together during that time. Coach kept telling us not to lay down, jus fight through it.”
—Jeremy Morgan on his team mid-season struggles following big wins versus North Carolina and Iowa State.
He Said It (Part IV)
“I’ve walked off this floor 13 times in my career, and sometimes you walk off the floor, and you’re disgusted how you play or this or that. I just told a group of 12 individuals in the locker room that I couldn’t be any prouder of them.”
—Southern Illinois’ head coach Barry Hinson
He Said It (Part V)
“Mainly just everything that we’ve been through as a team and how this team stuck together, through the good times, through the bad times. And I thought we knew what we did wrong, but everybody played their hardest, and nobody got down on themselves.”
—Southern Illinois’ Anthony Beane on his final thoughts as the scoreboard hit triple zeros. Beane had 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting.
He Said It (Part VI)
“As far as out postseason play, we’re going to get a call next week from our state legislature and let us know the number that the budget is going to be cut. If we play in postseason play, we will only do it if we know that we can be on the positive side of the ledger. We are not going to play a tournament in which we have to buy at this time when people are losing their jobs. We will not do that.”
—Barry Hinson on whether the Southern Illinois Salukis, a very deserving team, will accept a postseason tournament bid.
He Said It (Part VII)
“Wichita (State) is a heck of a team. They play really hard. They’re really aggresive on defense. They have two great senior guards in VanVleet and Baker, and we’ve just got to go out there and play our game.”
—Wes Washpun on the next opponent, the Wichita State Shockers.