There are no moral victories in sports. There is no winning in losing, but sometimes a close loss is more enlightening than a blow-out victory. Southern Illinois ran into the gauntlet of its conference schedule as it played Missouri Valley Conference first place team Wichita State and second place Indiana State on the road last week. Although both contests ended in defeat for the Salukis, SIU held its own against the conference’s best.
Southern was riding a four-game winning streak when it challenged WSU at Koch Arena Tuesday. Sophomore Anthony Beane scored 14 points and SIU was leading by half time. The Salukis were competitive on the boards and they were able to stymie the backcourt of the Shockers. It was looking as if SIU could truly pull the upset.
Coach Barry Hinson’s mama boys carried their tenacity into the second half. Beane kept shooting well and Wichita State was suffering a terrible night by point guard Fred VanVleet. The only detriment to the Salukis in the first half was their foul trouble, which continued to haunt them in the second. Southern’s star player Desmar Jackson fouled-out with his team down single-digits and just minutes left to play.
The hostility of Koch Arena and the lack of an all-conference player were too much for SIU to overcome. The Shockers snapped SIU’s streak at four games.
The loss to WSU made the matchup with Indiana State more pressing. SIU beat the Sycamores earlier at home, but Terre Haute is no easy place to win. ISU’s only loss at home this season was an eight-point loss to Wichita State. Southern got out to another quick start and also led at halftime. Once again, however, it failed to close out the game against a superior opponent. Jake Odum’s 15 points were enough to power Indiana State past SIU, 60-57.
Southern had two chances to win the game on a three-point shot but failed to convert.
Indeed these were two tough losses, but the Salukis were competitive against teams that were more talented on both sides of the ball. Beane is still hot despite the losses and Jackson should be reinvigorated when he plays in front of his home crowd. Three of the next four games are revenge games for SIU and it could emerge from this stretch of games as a real Missouri Valley tournament challenger.