He’d say later that the crowd was the biggest factor in the game.
The Salukis hung tough for all but about 3 minutes Tuesday tonight, finally falling 78-67 to fourth-ranked Wichita State. It put an end to Southern Illinois’ four-game winning streak, its best in more than four years, while leaving the Shockers still unbeaten.
“Gosh, that crowd,” Hinson said. “I hate them - and I love them. It’s an oxymoron.”
Make no mistake: Hinson loves the passion of Missouri Valley Conference fans. He just wishes he could have better communicated with his players down the stretch, when the game hung in the balance.
Instead, the Salukis (10-16, 6-7) starting turning it over on offense, the Shockers (26-0, 13-0) started getting easy baskets at the other end, and Hinson was left standing on the sideline with his hands on his hips, watching mirthlessly as the final seconds ticked away.
Anthony Beane scored 25 points to lead the Salukis.
“There’s a reason they’re 26-0. They’re damn good,” Hinson said, “but they made shots and that crowd just went nuts, and we came down and said, ‘Hey, it’s close to April 15! We’ll just give you the ball and we’ll get a tax deduction!’”
Ron Baker scored 19 points and Cleanthony Early had 18 for the Shockers, who became the first team to start 26-0 since Memphis in 2008. Five games stand in the way of Wichita State becoming the first team since Saint Joseph’s in 2004 to have a perfect regular season.
The Hawks didn’t lose that year until the Atlantic 10 tournament.
“Just survive,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “That was not our best effort, obviously. They get a lot of credit for that. They had a great game plan. They packed it in and we didn’t make any shots from the arc. It was a good strategy. Finally we made some in the second half and pulled away slowly, but give them credit. They played well.”
The Shockers trailed at halftime for the ninth time during their unbeaten run, though the 33-32 deficit could have been a whole lot worse the way they were shooting the ball.
Wichita State was just 2 of 14 from 3-point range in the first half, most of them missing just about everything. In fact, the only shots the Shockers seemed to make outside of 3 feet were a series of free throws that Early made to keep them within striking distance.
It didn’t help that the Shockers were in foul trouble, too. Baker, Early and Fred VanVleet - their top three scorers - were on the bench with two fouls apiece late in the half.
Once they returned after the break, the Shockers started to pick up steam.