Saluki senior guard Jeff Early notched his seventh double-double of the season as he led SIU to a 65-56 victory over Evansville.
SIU’s defense was tenacious and improved as the game progressed. Evansville shot 40 percent from the field and struggled for open looks as the Salukis played solid perimeter defense for most of Thursday’s game. The Purple Aces made 37 percent of their shots from the field and just 22 percent from 3-point distance in the second half.
Aces senior guard Colt Ryan posted a game-high 21 points, but no other team member of the Evansville team had more than 10. Ryan went 4-5 from beyond the arc in the first half, but he made just one 3-pointer in the second.
Evansville head coach Marty Simmons said SIU used a more effective defensive strategy in the two teams’ second contest.
“They were more aggressive, more competitive, they made things harder for us,” Simmons said. “We didn’t get the looks off screens like we did in the first game. They gave us resistance.”
Early provided the Salukis with 14 offensive points and connected on his third 3-pointer of the season. The senior also contributed 10 rebounds, two of which came from the offensive glass. His quickness and agility effectively positioned him for rebounds against the towering UE frontcourt, and the Salukis posted 12 more rebounds than Evansville.
Early said he recently sustained a back injury, but he wouldn’t allow that to stop the team’s hot streak.
“In practice this week, I couldn’t hit a layup at all because of my back,” he said. “I didn’t feel it too much in the game because my adrenaline got me pumped up.”
Saluki forwards junior Davante Drinkard and sophomore Dantiel Daniels played productive minutes and posted a double double between them, as SIU coach Barry Hinson said. Drinkard added four offensive rebounds and a block coming off the bench. Daniels grabbed six total rebounds, five of which came off of Saluki shots, and he was SIU’s second highest scoring starter with nine points.
“In order for you to be successful in this league, your big guys have to play,” Hinson said.
Turnovers plagued both teams all night, but Saluki Freshmen guards Jalen Pendleton and Anthony Beane Jr. played well enough in other areas to offset their mistakes. Beane Jr. accumulated 12 points on two 3-pointers and six freebies from the free-throw line. Pendleton struggled with foul trouble, but he managed to score 12 points and connected on a 3-point basket.
Hinson said his post players’ productivity gave his shooters better opportunities.
“We shot 40 percent from three because we were able to get baskets inside,” he said.
The Salukis look to obtain their 11th win of the season against Missouri State Saturday in the SIU Arena.
DeMario Phipps-Smith can be reached at dsmith-phipps@dailyegyptian.