The Saluki men’s basketball team won two consecutive games in the Missouri Valley conference For the first time this season.
SIU has played its best defense recently and held the Missouri State Bears to just 3-16 on shots from 3-point range during Saturday night’s victory.
Senior guard Jeff Early continued his scorching play as he contributed with clutch shots and high energy in a 20-point effort for the Dawgs. Fellow senior guard Anthony Downing tried his best to keep the Bears within striking distance, but his 20 points were not enough to overcome a balanced attack from Southern Illinois as the Salukis won 62-54.
Missouri State coach and SIU alumnus Paul Lusk said the Saluki big men’s interior play made the difference between two similar teams.
“I think Dantiel Daniels, the former All-freshman, is playing a
lot better and he’s getting healthy,” he said. “I think SIU is just like us in how they have their backs to the wall and how they have to grind for each win.”
SIU’s offense was effective in feeding the ball into the post and scoring in the paint. Despite being short-statured team, the Salukis scored 26 points on the Bears. 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Dantiel Daniels connected on three of four shots from close range and added four offensive rebounds. The established inside game for SIU allowed it to get clean looks for jump shots.
Junior guard Desmar Jackson said Early’s shooting stroke was essential to the team’s success.
“Jeff’s jumper was money tonight,” he said. “A lot of attention was given to me tonight, so I was looking (to pass) to my teammates.”
Jackson changed from his usual roles high-volume shooter and prolific scorer to the team’s facilitator as he led the Salukis with a game-high four assists. The
junior transfer scored 11 points and went 3-4 on free-throw attempts but missed all four of his 3-point field-goal attempts. Jackson said coach Barry Hinson doesn’t want the team to take unnecessary long- range shots. The first-year Saluki coach adjusted his game plan in the second half, and SIU attacked the rim to score 14 points from the free-throw line.
Hinson said his players’ tendency to attempt erratic shots concerns him. “First, Jeff comes down and tries to hit an NBA-like shot,” he said. “Then Anthony (Beane, Jr.) takes an early shot with 26 seconds left
on the shot clock.” Although Early’s off-balanced
shooting style is unorthodox, MSU defenders left him space to shoot and he made open jump shots all night. The senior grabbed just three rebounds on the night, but redeemed himself with three steals and perfect shooting from the free- throw line (4-4).
After the Bears cut the SIU lead to 2 points, senior guard T.J. Lindsay hit a crucial 3-pointer with nine minutes left in the game. The Salukis used the momentum from the timely basket to take their lead to the game’s end.
Hinson said the improved play from Lindsay allows the Salukis to have a legitimate two-pronged attack.
“T.J. is our best 3-point shooter, and we need to figure that out as a staff and as a team,” Hinson said.
“We’re not a good perimeter team, but when we get the ball inside, we’re starting to do some things.”
The Salukis look to continue their hot play when they face Creighton Tuesday in Omaha, Neb.