ST. THOMAS — For a few minutes Friday, it looked like Southern Illinois was facing a blowout in its first-round game against Colorado in the Paradise Jam men’s college basketball tournament.
Then the Salukis got their act together, overcoming their slow start to advance to the semifinals with a 67-64 victory over the undefeated Buffaloes at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center.
Marcus Domask scored a season-high 17 points to lead three players in double figures for Southern Illinois (2-1), which has now won two straight. Steven Verplancken added 16 points and Lance Jones 14 points.
The Salukis — playing in Paradise Jam for the first time — overcame an 11-point deficit early in the first half to lead by as many as nine points early in the second half.
And when Colorado made multiple attempts to cut the margin down, and even regain the lead, Southern Illinois countered with its own run.
Jabari Walker led the Buffaloes (3-1) with 16 points. Tristan da Silva added 15 points, and Evan Battey and Keeshawn Barthelemy had 12 points each.
While the Salukis scored the game’s first point, it was Colorado who went on a 12-point run over the next four minutes to take command of the game — or so everyone thought.
But Southern Illinois rallied, with three lead changes and a tie before Verplancken’s turnaround jumper with 2 minutes, 52 seconds left put the Salukis ahead to stay, going out of the half with a 27-19 lead.
Southern Illinois took its biggest lead — nine points — twice in the second half, the last on Domask’s 3-pointer at the 13:52 mark giving the Salukis a 41-32 lead.
But Colorado wasn’t out of the game — not by a long shot. The Buffaloes managed to cut Southern Illinois’ lead down to two points — 60-58 — on da Silva’s free throw with 1:33 left, and had their chances to tie the game.
The Salukis responded one last time, scoring seven unanswered points to pull ahead 67-58 with 17 seconds remaining. The last points were by Da Silva — a layup with nine seconds left, and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
Marcus Domask, Southern Illinois: The 6-foot-6 junior bested his season high by two points (15), which he had against Austin Peay on Nov. 12. He made 6 of 12 shots, including 2 of 5 3-pointers, and 3 of 6 free throws. He also had three assists.
Jabari Walker, Colorado: The 6-9 sophomore came up big in the second half for the Buffaloes, scoring 13 of his 16 points despite getting in foul trouble. He made 6 of 9 from the field (but missed both of his 3-point attempts) and 4 for 4 on free throws. He also had four rebounds.
• Southern Illinois has shot better than 50 percent through its first two games, so Friday’s win was somewhat of a letdown – 44.9% (22 of 49). Colorado, meanwhile, shot 50% even (25 of 50) from the field, the third time this season they’ve managed that.
• The difference in the game came on 3-pointers and free throws. The Salukis made 12 of 29 3-pointers to just 4 of 14 for the Buffaloes, and 11 of 16 free throws to 9 for 15.
Southern Illinois now has a semifinal matchup against Northeastern at 9 p.m. Sunday. Meanwhile, Colorado moves into the consolation round to play Duquesne today at 6:45 p.m.