Monday night preview: Can the Salukis key in and cut down the Trees?

Salukis+freshman+forward+Marcus+Domask+begins+to+put+the+moves+around+a+Sycamore+defended+during+SIU%E2%80%99s+Senior+Night.+SIU+would+go+on+to+loss+to+Indiana+State+77-68+on+Wednesday%2C+Feb.+26%2C+2020+at+the+Banterra+Center.+Jared+Treece+%40bisalo+

Jared Treece @bisalo

Salukis freshman forward Marcus Domask begins to put the moves around a Sycamore defended during SIU’s Senior Night. SIU would go on to loss to Indiana State 77-68 on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 at the Banterra Center. Jared Treece @bisalo

After a three-week break due to positive COVID-19 tests, Saluki men’s basketball returns to the court Monday Jan. 25 at 6p.m against Indiana State.

In his teleconference with the media this week, Saluki head coach Bryan Mullins said the Sycamores are a tough opponent.

“We’ll be playing an extremely tough opponent,” Mullins said. “I think Indiana State is playing as well as anybody in our league right now.”

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Senior guard Tyreke Key is leading the Sycamores in scoring, averaging 15.5 points per game during conference play to go along with an average of 5.6 rebounds per game.

“Their backcourt is extremely experienced with Key and [Cooper] Neese,” Mullins said. “I think those are two of the better guards in the league.”

Junior guard Neese is second in scoring during conference play with 12.9 points per game, and  on the defensive side he has nine steals through eight conference games.

Sophomore forward Jake LaRavia and sophomore center Tre Williams man the frontcourt for the Sycamores, who have won three out of their last four games.

“LaRavia is so different he can play one through five,” Mullins said. “Williams has a great feel and brings toughness to them down low.”

When the game tips off on Monday, it will mark three weeks since Southern last played, which was an 86-55 loss to Drake on Jan. 4. 

“Having this pause, [I’ve] been able to watch other teams around the country play and then get some ideas,” Mullins said. 

With the break comes the concern of if the players are conditioned to the point where they are ready to play a game.

“Anytime you take 10-17 days off athletes who have been working at a high intensity for an extended period of time, they’re in game shape,” Mullins said.

Mullins said it will take some time to get back in game shape up to even two weeks to get the players back to where they were.

“It just takes time, we just can’t have two practices and then you feel great again,” Mullins said. “I think it takes about a week or two weeks to get back to where you were before that period.”

Indiana State comes into this game having played at Missouri State, against Loyola in Terre Haute, and against Illinois State in Bloomington, having won three of those games.

“They’re playing extremely well, they’ve had a tough stretch leading up,” Mullins said. “Over the last four games they’re playing even better than before we were about to play them.”

The Missouri Valley Conference altered the way they play the games this season with teams playing back-back games against the same opponent.

So far in conference play, Southern has struggled in the second game of the series losing to Evansville on Dec. 28, 84-72 and Drake on Jan. 4, 86-55.

“Getting them back up to that level to compete where they were […] is probably the biggest thing that we have got to continue to focus on with our group,” Mullins said.

The Salukis and the Sycamores have both played Southeast Missouri State University and Drake this season. With both SIU and Indiana State beating SEMO but dropping both games to the Bulldogs.

“Indiana State played really well against Drake especially in the second game,” Mullins said. “They had an opportunity to beat Drake at their place.”

The Sycamores style of play is reliant on their defense, according to Mullins. The team has 109 forced turnovers against Valley teams this season.

“With Indiana State it starts with their defense, the ball pressure and physicality defensively,” Mullins said.

Looking at how Indiana State played against Drake, Mullins said the biggest takeaway is that Southern needs to be able to handle the defensive pressure.

“Similar to Drake in terms of their defensive pressure we’ve got to do a better job of handling that than we did against the Drake series,”Mullins said.

A minimum of eight scholarship players will be able to play in the upcoming series against the Sycamores, and Mullins said they’re ready to play.

“I think they’re just excited for this upcoming weekend, when things happen, adversity hits, the guys don’t look backwards they look forwards and they stay together,” Mullins said.

SIU will be back in action on Monday Jan. 24 against Indiana State in Terre Haute, Ind. with tip-off set for 6p.m.

Sports Reporter Adam Warfel can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @warfel_adam.

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