PEORIA, Ill. - Will Franklin's 10-foot bank shot rolled around the rim for what seemed like an eternity before falling in with 0.5 seconds left, giving Bradley a 48-46 win over Southern Illinois on Wednesday night.
In a hotly contested game, in which every possession in the last five minutes seemed make or break, it was one of many clutch shots the Braves' senior guard knocked down. He converted six of his team's 18 field goals on the night and led all scorers with 18 points.
"I can honestly say I did aim for the backboard," laughed Franklin, who was tightly guarded on the play by Saluki guard Bryan Mullins. "I guess I hit it just right."
Bradley head coach Jim Les said he called a clear-out for Franklin because he was confident the 6-foot guard would deliver.
"He makes them all the time in practice, so it doesn't surprise me that he makes them with the game on the line," Les said.
The Salukis (12-4, 3-2), who could not get off a final shot in the final half second, lost their second-straight Missouri Valley Conference game on the heels of losing at Northern Iowa on Saturday.
SIU's offensive possession before Franklin hit the game winner was typical of Southern's woes throughout the evening. The Salukis came out of a time out with the ball and 59 seconds left in a tie game, 46-46. After cautiously passing the ball around the perimeter against Bradley's zone, Jamaal Tatum was forced to launch a deep 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down. It was no good, and Franklin tracked down the rebound and called timeout.
"We stood around and acted like we never saw a zone," Saluki head coach Chris Lowery lamented.
Indeed, Bradley's trapping halfcourt zone was Southern's undoing.
The Salukis built an 18-8 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game, as SIU forward Randal Falker dominated the low post, sending Braves' forward Zach Andrews to the bench with two fouls.
"We were back on our heels and didn't really have a swagger," Les said. "We were letting them take the game to us."
So Bradley switched to a zone defense with four guards, and the Salukis could not adjust. They made just one field goal during the last 10 minutes of the half.
"We just passed it around the horn," Lowery said. "We wouldn't penetrate or do the things you have to do to attack that type of zone, where it's wide, and they're small, and they're scrappy."
Not only did Southern have trouble scoring, but the zone led to a flurry of turnovers -- 10 in the first half and 20 overall.
"In a possession game where we dictate flow, we can't have that many turnovers," Lowery said.
Although Bradley shot just 24 percent in the first half, it only trailed, 21-19, and must have felt like it had weathered the storm.
The Braves (12-6, 3-3) picked up where they left off in the second half by scoring six-straight points to take their biggest lead of the game, 25-21, on a jumper by J.J. Tauai with 18:23 to go.
Southern finally began to attack the zone with better ball movement leading to 3-point buckets by Mullins, Tony Young and Tatum, as SIU regained the advantage, 32-30.
The Braves then went back to a man-to-man defense, and Southern went back inside to Falker. The 6-foot-7 forward could not overcome the Bradley double teams in the second half, however.
"They did a good job of scouting and really going after (Falker) every time he caught it," Lowery said. "That forced him to make a decision right away. They never let him catch and look and find."
Falker did finish with 11 points and 12 rebounds, but he also had five turnovers, and it was a far cry from the total domination he displayed in two games against the Braves last year, in which he averaged 20.5 ppg and 12.5 rpg.
"Changing up the defenses, I thought, kept them out of an offensive rhythm and allowed us to hang around until we could make enough plays to win the game," Les said.
The Salukis out-rebounded the Braves, 36-21, and shot 45 percent compared to Bradley's 36. It was a game Southern will look back upon and wonder how it lost. Then it will remember the costly turnovers.
"We didn't value the ball enough on offense, and we didn't take enough pride on the defensive end in the guts of the game, to get it done," said Lowery, summing up his team's performance.
- SIU Media -