Southern Illinois trimmed the WKU lead to one point on four different occasions in the final 5:00 of the game Wednesday night, but WKU kept the Salukis at bay and never trailed in a 58-57 win at E.A. Diddle Arena. When a Desmar Jackson three-pointer missed at the buzzer, WKU moved to 7-2 on the season with the victory.
The win was WKU's ninth-straight at E.A. Diddle Arena and 14th in the last 17 games overall. With the win, WKU matches its best start to a season since the 2007-08 team also began the campaign with a 7-2 record.
T.J. Price led WKU with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting with four three-pointers, his eighth-straight game with at least 10 points and 10th in the last 11 contests overall. George Fant added 12 points and nine rebounds, and Jamal Crook had 10 and three assists. Jackson led all scorers with 22 tallies.
The Hilltoppers shot 47.8 percent as a team and outrebounded Southern Illinois 35-31. WKU is now 15-1 under head coach Ray Harper when outrebounding its opponent.
Leading 24-23 with 5:15 left in the first half, the Hilltoppers turned up the defensive pressure and forced Southern Illinois to miss its final six shots of the half to spur a 10-3 run to cruise into intermission with a 34-26 advantage.
WKU took its largest lead of the night at 10 points less than 15 seconds into the second half, but from there Southern Illinois began to chip away at the lead. Back-to-back jumpers by Kendal Brown-Surles after a Dantiel Daniels basket made the score 48-44 in favor of WKU, and it was down to a one possession game less than a minute later on a Jackson three-pointer.
It remained a one possession game for the final 5:47 of the contest, but WKU had an answer every time the Salukis looked poised to take the lead. An O'Karo Akamune tip-in with 2:08 remaining pushed the lead to three points, and it went back to three again 30 seconds later on a clutch Crook jumper.
Southern Illinois hit two free throws down the stretch to make the score 58-57 with 48 ticks left on the clock, and Crook missed two free throws on the WKU end after being fouled. With the chance to win the game, a desperation Saluki three pointer missed, and WKU came away with the win, its third-straight both overall and in Bowling Green against Southern Illinois.
WKU's current nine-game home winning streak is its longest since winning 15-in-a-row at E.A. Diddle Arena spanning the end of the 2007-08 season, the entire 2008-09 campaign and the start of the 2009-10 season.
Wednesday's game marked the seventh-straight season WKU and Southern Illinois have played, and each of the last five have been decided by single digits.
WKU is back in action Saturday afternoon at 3:00 against IUPUI. The game will be televised by the Hilltopper Sports Satellite Network, airing nationally on ESPN3 and ESPN Full Court and regionally on WKYU-PBS and WBNA. The game will also be broadcast on the radio on the Hilltopper IMG Sports Network with Randy Lee and Hal Schmitt on the call.