The men’s basketball team downed Fresno State 57-54 Wednesday night in the game’s final seconds.
Junior guard Desmar Jackson played his best Saluki game yet as he led the team with 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Jackson hit 3-pointers at the end of both halves; the second was an off-balance game winning jumper from beyond the arc with less than 12 seconds left in the game.
Coach Barry Hinson said Jackson’s play has improved greatly since Saturday’s game against St. Louis University.
“He has an incredible offensive pace, and it drives me nuts,” he said. “He moves so methodical, and nobody can speed him up. He’s the last one on the bus, the last one to get out on the court, the last one to eat … but tonight we needed that on a play like that.”
Jackson shot 56 percent from the field and connected on three 3-point bombs for the night. He said he had never hit a game-winning shot before, let alone two buzzer beaters in one game.
“Everyone was excited and jumping around,” he said with a smile. “When Jeff (Early) picked me up, I thought I was going to tilt over and fall.”
More than 5,400 people filled SIU Arena and were very vocal at key points in the game. Jackson said the fans were the game’s determining factor.
“I love when the stands are full. I love it,” he said. “There were times in the game where Fresno State had all the momentum, but we had our home crowd.”
Fellow senior guard Jeff Early notched his third double-double of the year as he scored 14 points and led the team with 10 rebounds. The 6-foot-1 hybrid guard battled against the Bulldog bigmen all night as he led the Salukis to a 31-29 rebound advantage.
“Rebounding is all about effort and playing with heart,” he said. “ I’m used to playing with heart. When I touch the ball, I feel like I’m coming down with the ball every time.”
The Salukis surrendered the lead for the first time all game on a layup by Fresno State guard Tyler Johnson with two minutes and 20 seconds left in the second half, which made the score 50-51. Early said last year’s team may not have been able to sustain after such a fierce Bulldog charge.
“This game was a little flashback of last year and how we would have the lead and find some way to lose it,” he said. “Most of those games we ended up losing, but this year we have confidence that we can still pull out the win.”
After the victory, Hinson said he was proud of the whole Saluki nation.
“I’m proud of the effort from the fans and our players,” he said. “I can’t thank the fans enough. We had no chance of winning tonight without the fans.”
Chancellor Rita Cheng and athletic director Mario Moccia presented the Wounded Warriors military veterans with awards at half time as the crowd rendered a standing ovation for their service. Hinson said tonight’s win is miniscule compared to what the veterans have done for the country.
“I brought (the Wounded Warriors) in the locker room after the game,” he said. “I told our guys that our victory pales in comparison to their sacrifice.”
Hinson said he was impressed with how well his team kept its composure when faced with adversity against a tough opponent.
“Every time we came out of a huddle, they kept saying ‘Stick together,’” he said. “There was no fear in anybody’s eyes, not even the staff. After the final time out, I told the guys ‘Why don’t we just go out there and win the game.’”