CARBONDALE, Ill. - With his team trailing by two, Northern Iowa's Travis Brown let loose a 3-point shot as the final seconds ticked off the clock at SIU Arena.
A crowd of 8,007 Saluki fans held its collective breath, because the seemingly infallible Brown had made all four of his previous 3-point trys.
The shot rimmed out, and Grant Stout's put-back at the buzzer was waved off by the officials, allowing Southern Illinois to celebrate a hard-fought 56-54 win.
"He made four-out-of-four, so I figured that one was going in, and that's how it was going to end," said Saluki head coach Chris Lowery.
Just about everything else from outside the arc did go in for the Panthers. They made 11-of-15 shots from 3-point range -- converting an incredible 73.3 percent on the night.
The difference in the game was the Southern Illinois defense, which pressured and harassed UNI into a season-high 24 turnovers. It allowed the Salukis to take 30 more shots than the Panthers, and they needed every one of them to pull out the victory.
Lowery said it was the most pressure his team has applied to an opponent since December.
"We've been sound defensively, but we haven't been attacking like we needed to be," Lowery said. "It started at Creighton (on Saturday). We got after them. Now we come home, and we really got after these guys defensively."
Saluki guards Bryan Mullins and Tony Young spearheaded the defensive charge. Mullins turned over his counterpart, UNI point guard Brooks McCowen, five times. Young had four steals.
"The main thing we wanted to do this game was get in the passing lane," said Mullins. "They're such a good passing team."
In addition to his tenacious defensive play, Mullins was a force on the offensive end, scoring a career-high 16 points, including a couple of nifty drives to the basket in the second half.
"I thought Bryan Mullins was great down the stretch," Lowery said. "He really played with a lot of poise and stepped up and took open shots and wasn't afraid to make a play."
Both teams played brilliantly in spurts.
Northern Iowa jumped out to 16-6 lead behind 3-point buckets from Brown, Stout and Brooks McCowen.
After missing 15 of its first 18 shots, Southern Illinois capped off an 18-3 run with baskets on six-straight possessions.
When the dust settled at halftime, though, the Panthers led 27-25.
"We were fortunate that they missed shots," UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. "They had good motion, they missed some shots, and we were able to get a little bit of a lead and keep the game close."
The Salukis trailed by as many as five points in the second half, before mounting a 15-5 run that started with a Matt Shaw jumper at the 13:14 mark.
Seven minutes and seven turnovers later, Jacobson was whistled for a technical foul. Young made both free throws, giving Southern its biggest lead of the night, 49-42, with 6:23 to go.
Lowery said his team simply refused to lose.
"I got after those guys at one of those timeouts," Lowery admitted. "Tony Young was screaming in my face and screaming in their face."
The Panthers inched back into the game, though, cutting the deficit to 56-54 on a layup by McCowen with 1:20 remaining. It proved to be the last points of the game for either team.
The contest was especially critical for Southern Illinois, because a loss would have dropped the Salukis two games behind UNI in the loss column, and the Panthers would have swept the season series.
Instead, the Salukis (16-5, 7-3) moved into first place in the Missouri Valley Conference, a half game ahead of the Panthers (15-5, 6-3).
"There's way too many games left to be celebrating," Mullins said.
- SIU Media Relations -