SIU thrives in big games

The SIU men’s basketball team has yet to outperform its 10th-place preseason ranking, but the Salukis have provided an elevated performance in some of the biggest games on their schedule.

After winning three of its first four games, SIU (9-15, 2-11) faced its first challenge in Fresno State Nov. 28 at home. The Bulldogs opposed Southern with superior size and even greater offensive ability. However, the Salukis rode their hot shooting (they entered the game as the No. 14 shooting team in the country) and a last second bank shot from junior guard Desmar Jackson to a 57-54 defeat of Fresno State.

The junior guard also posted a career-high 29 points in the upset victory over Indiana State in the SIU Arena Jan. 12. It was the first time in the Salukis’ season that coach Barry Hinson played man-to-man defense for the entire game.

The coach’s decision led SIU to nine steals and forced INS into 19 turnovers. Senior guard Jeff Early also had a career night as he grabbed 13 rebounds in a 76-71 win.

The Salukis bested Wichita State 64-62 Tuesday in Carbondale. Senior guard T.J. Lindsay scored a game-high 14 points on four 3-pointers in the win.

Although SIU has developed a scrappy and highly active defense, the offense allowed the team to outplay the No. 22 Shockers. SIU scored 14 straight points after WSU had a double-digit lead and trailed by just one point going into the half.

Although the Salukis haven’t fared well on the road this season, they have played some quality teams to the wire.

The first time SIU squared off against Wichita State in Kansas, the results were different. WSU took advantage of scoring opportunities and junior forward Cleanthony Early’s 39-point effort to win 82-76. Jackson’s 28 points led the Salukis, and freshman Anthony Beane Jr. added 14 of his own. Late fouls and a missed 3-point attempt by Jackson caused the Salukis to wash the game away.

Hinson and his team traveled to Terre Haute to clash with Indiana State Saturday and nearly surprised the successful Sycamores with a home loss. Freshman guard Jalen Pendleton scored a game-high 17 points off the bench for SIU, and he almost hit a second game-winning shot in just as many games. The freshman has seen very limited play time during most of the conference schedule, but Hinson said Pendleton has shown that he deserves to be on the court.

The Sycamores passed star point guard Jake Odum the ball with 18 seconds left, and the senior split the defense to cash in on an easy bucket to give his team a 66-65 victory.

Hinson’s coaching prowess has allowed the Salukis to shine in some big contests this season. Hinson plays players who are hot in practice like he did with Pendleton. He also takes advantage of his team’s strengths and protects their weaknesses. This is why Hinson’s players believe they can match up against any team in the conference.

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