SIU managed to defeat Division II Upper Iowa University 73-62 in a Saturday game that was closer than the scoreboard indicated.
The Saluki men shot a lower percentage than Upper Iowa from the field as they shot only 40 percent in the first half. Junior guard Desmar Jackson and junior forward Davante Drinkard struggled to shoot the ball early on and accounted for only 13 points on 13 combined shots in the first half.
Freshman guard Jalen Pendleton scored nine points in the first half with three offensive rebounds and two assists. Pendleton got fouled on a crossover into the lane with more than 14 minutes left. The true freshman made both free throws and notched five of six in the first half.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking early on, but Coach told me to calm down and play my game,” Pendleton said. “I tried to open shots for shooters by driving and getting penetration.”
The Salukis started the second half well highlighted by two steals that led to fast break buckets by Jackson and senior guard Jeff Early, who was fouled and completed the four-point play.
Early made 10 free throws in the game and shot seven more than any other Saluki player.
“When Coach took me out the game for a while, I was just sitting there just waiting for my chance,” Early said. “When I got back in … I made sure to crash the boards and bring energy in. I didn’t know I went to the free-throw line that much. It was probably the most I’ve ever been.”
SIU increased the defensive pressure in the second half as the team forced eight of its 14 total steals in the second alone. Jackson led the team in steals with six, and he used his length to disrupt UIU’s passing lanes all night.
After leading 55-48 at the 13-minute mark, Southern Illinois suffered a scoring drought that lasted almost nine minutes. The offensive woes also affected the Saluki defense as they allowed the Peacocks to go on an 8-0 run during that time span.
The team looked defeated, but coach Barry Hinson challenged it to fight back.
“At the four-minute mark, we were down by a point … I told them that this is good for us. We need to go through this.” Hinson said. “We need to have a game right now to find out if we are going to listen to what it is going to take to win a game down the stretch.”
A technical foul on Upper Iowa with 3:30 left in the game put the Salukis ahead 57-56, and they never trailed again. A 3-point field goal by freshman guard Anthony Beane, Jr. put the team up by eight and essentially sealed the game for SIU.
Jackson added 11 more points in the second half to end the night as the team’s leading scorer with 19 points. Senior guard T.J. Lindsay contributed five points, five assists, five rebounds and had five free throw attempts. Sophomore guard Josh Swan went 2 of 3 from the field with four points and an assist in his first game back for the season.
Hinson said the team must play smarter and stop gambling on defense as much.
“Right now we’re playing the Tijuana defense,” Hinson said. “It’s a defense I learned a long time ago in Mexico where you got a bull coming at you and you just let him through. It was the Peacock Tijuana defense, and we let them through every time without a problem.”
Hinson said he now has 24 wins in exhibition games without a loss, but he was willing to risk his unblemished record to get the most out of his team.
“I wanted to make sure we get through the game, guard a man, learn how to play and fight through it,” he said. “I would have been OK with 23-1 if it would help us win basketball games down the line.”
The Salukis will play their first competitive game of the season Nov. 12 against the University of New Orleans in New Orleans.