Southern Illinois dodged a potentially crippling loss yesterday, defeating Osiris Eldridge and the Illinois State Redbirds 81-80 in overtime at Carbondale.
The Salukis essentially shut down Eldridge - who scored 16 points but was only 5 for 21 from the floor - and got big performances from Kevin Dillard, Anthony Booker and Justin Bocot. Tony Freeman was his consistent self as well as Southern improved to 4-5 in the Missouri Valley.
Booker scored the winning basket with over a minute to play and finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Dillard led five Salukis in double figures with 18. Southern helped its cause by going 22 of 24 from the charity stripe as well.
With Northern Iowa creating some distance at the top - especially after Wichita State's loss to Drake - all other spots are seemingly up for grabs. Southern Illinois currently sits eighth, but only two games behind the Shockers. Drake has surprised everyone by winning their last five in a row and jumping into the league race.
Since a dominant stretch of home court play that spanned 5 years, the Salukis have been more than accommodating hosts during the past two seasons. Their only shot to make some noise this season is to win out at home and nab a couple on the road - essentially a 7-2 or 6-3 finish to get a decent seed heading into Arch Madness.
Next up for the Salukis is an out of conference game against fellow mid-major, Western Kentucky, who has had their share of struggles as of late.