CARBONDALE, Ill. —Like most games at SIU Arena, it came down to diving on the floor for a loose ball and making a defensive stand.
Long-time Wichita State fans can take a few minutes to savor the feeling. For the first time since 1998, the Shockers made those plays and Southern Illinois didn't. The Shockers defeated the Salukis 55-54 to end an 11-game losing streak in Carbondale.
"Getting loose balls in a game like this is huge," WSU junior Graham Hatch said. "A couple practices ago we did that a lot, diving on the floor. It hurt, but it really helps."
That's the kind of grit and hustle it took to get a win at SIU Arena. The Shockers (19-4, 8-3 Missouri Valley Conference) survived sub-par offensive nights by their top three scorers with big contributions from Hatch and reserve Garrett Stutz and the two game-defining plays. They even survived a missed free throw by Clevin Hannah.
SIU (12-9, 4-7) trailed 55-54 with nine seconds to play. Guard Kevin Dillard took the ball into the lane and got off a contested shot that bounced high off the back rim and away, where Hatch grabbed it as the buzzer sounded.
"We tried to clear out for Kevin, and they did a good job of guarding it," SIU coach Chris Lowery said.
Marshall endured some anxious moments as Dillard's shot bounced in the air. Not only did WSU get hands in his face, the positioning of the ball after SIU called timeout helped. The Salukis passed in in front of their own bench, meaning Dillard had to dribble left into the lane.
"He's better going right," Marshall said. "Because the ball was in front of their bench, he didn't have time to go over to the other side of the court and reset, which was an advantage."
The Shockers took a 55-52 lead with 1:35 to play on a perfectly executed inbound play that got Toure Murry a layup. SIU's Tony Freeman missed a three with 1:14 to play. The ball deflected off several players out near the three-point line. Hannah and Hatch dove for the ball, keeping it away from the Salukis. Hannah passed from the floor to Gabe Blair to save the possession for the Shockers.
WSU didn't score again. Blair missed a short jumper with the shot clocking winding down. Hannah, shockingly, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 15 seconds to play. He entered the game shooting 93.7 percent and 23 of 23 in road games.
That seems like a fatal combination in SIU Arena. Instead, the Shockers walked out winners and remained two games behind first-place Northern Iowa in the MVC race.
Lowery didn't like much about his team's execution in the final minutes. His guards twice ignored his instructions to get the ball into freshman center Gene Teague, who scored 12 points and got the Shockers into foul trouble.
"That's the game," Lowery said. "We took hero shots. It's about doing what we ask you to do."
The Shocker offensive heroes also disturbed Lowery. His defense kept WSU's top three scorers — Hannah, Murry and J.T. Durley — under control. Hatch stepped up with 13 points and Stutz added 12.
Hatch went layup crazy against the Salukis, back-cutting his way to easy baskets.
"We were just asleep," Lowery said. "He was just cutting hard."
Stutz grabbed six offensive rebounds on his way to his highest point total since he scored 13 against Texas Tech. He also blocked a shot and took a charge.
"He was all around the rim," Marshall said. "He seemed big tonight, and played big."
With Durley struggling, Stutz scored 10 of his points in the second half.
"Coach called my number a couple times and we executed really well," Stutz said. "I just made shots tonight."
WSU's fifth road win of the season gives it a good buzz heading to Northern Iowa on Wednesday. A win there cuts its lead to one game with six to play.
"We talked about these two road games being, potentially, the two biggest games of the year," Marshall said. "If you have success like we're having, the games do mean more as you come down the stretch — which is a nice problem to have."