It looked like a bumblebee colony.
A sellout crowd, mostly clad in anything yellow and black, swarmed into the Charles Koch Arena to see Wichita State battle SIU Saturday.
Wichita State had not beaten the Salukis since Jan. 10, 2002, and shocker fans let their frustrations out early and often.
They booed SIU during warm-ups, starting introductions and as the Salukis made their way to the locker room at halftime – basically the type of reception any home crowd would bestow upon its guests.
The jeers, though, came long before the crowd ballooned to sellout capacity.
“They got nicknames for us already,” LaMar Owen said about an hour before game time.
In an environment sprinkled with signs that read, “What is a Saluki?” and “Control the idiot population, neuter your Saluki,” it was hard for any Saluki to feel at home.
But for red-shirt freshman Jamaal Foster, three of the 10,478 people in attendance looked familiar.
Foster’s father, younger sister and cousin made the trek to Kansas to watch him and his cousin, Shocker forward Jamar Howard, compete against each other.
“I only get a chance to talk to them on the phone,” Foster said. “It was good seeing them.”
Unfortunately due to a coach’s decision, the 6-foot-10 forward never left the bench as the Shockers defeated SIU 58-56.
Howard now has the upperhand in any trash talk between him and his younger cousin – at least until the two meet again Feb. 26 at the SIU Arena.
Saluki “D” among best in the nation
The country just might be starting to learn what the entire Missouri Valley Conference already knows – the Salukis are defensive monsters.
SIU is holding its opponents to just 58.7 points a game, the best mark in the Valley and good enough for 12th in the nation.
The Salukis are forcing 18.6 turnovers a game, led by Darren Brooks, who averages 3.1 steals a game. As of Jan. 23 the MVC reigning defensive player of the year was ranked seventh in the nation in steals per game.
Brooks is just eight steals shy of seventh place on the Valley’s all-time top 10 steals list.
Games are won – and lost – at the line
The Salukis are connecting on 74.7 percent of their free throws, a mark that ranks 23rd in the nation.
SIU shot 17-for-17 from the free throw line against Bradley Jan. 19, marking just the seventh time in school history the Salukis converted every shot from the charity stripe during a game and the most without a miss.
Stetson Hairston has made his last 14 free throws, while Brooks is shooting a career-best 81.3 percent from the line this season.
Saluki guard Jamaal Tatum dropped a career-high 21 points in a loss to Wichita State Saturday, scoring 16 second-half points on 4-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc.
Tatum currently ranks third in career three-point shooting percentage at SIU. Tatum has made 41.5 percent of his treys, trailing only Doug Novsek and Kai Nurnberger. Novsek shot 47.3 percent and Kai Nurnberger finished his career shooting 42 percent.
MVC gets its due
The Missouri Valley ranks No. 8 as a conference, according to Collegiate Basketball News. At. No. 16, SIU leads a list of five MVC schools in the top 90, including Wichita State at No. 22. In the Jeff Sagarin computer rankings, the MVC is No. 7, led by SIU at No. 29.
Drew Stevens can be reached at [email protected]