Dale revs up (e)motion-less Salukis

By Gus Bode

Guard comes in at four spot to save Salukis

Southwest Missouri State never plays a zone defense.

No, really. Just ask head coach Barry Hinson.


“We’ve probably played four possessions of zone the entire year in 13 games,” Hinson said. “I’m an Oklahoma State guy. That’s a cuss word where I come from.”

Yet in the first half of the SIU men’s basketball team’s 61-60 come-from-behind victory Saturday at the SIU Arena, SMS set up in the 2-3 zone in an attempt to stifle the Salukis’ motion offense.

It did the trick.

Even though the Bears (7-7 overall, 1-5 Missouri Valley Conference) rarely cross over to the dark side of Hinson’s defensive philosophy, on this night SMS looked like its coach was from Syracuse or Temple, two teams traditionally famous for superior zone defenses.

From the time Hinson committed to a zone, the Bears ignited for a steady 22-13 run to close the first half leading by eight. Aside from an occasional full court press, SMS would never abandon the 2-3.

“[The coaches] felt really confident about coming in this game and playing a lot of zone against SIU, and it worked out pretty good for us,” said SMS guard Anthony Shavies, who helped his team take the lead by as many as 12 points in the second half on the strength of its zone defense.

Enter reserve guard Mike Dale – at power forward.


“We put Mike Dale in at the four and that changed everything,” SIU head coach Chris Lowery said.

With the Salukis (14-3, 5-0) going through the motions of its motion offense, complete with emotionless cuts and lots of standing around, Dale stepped onto the court with the simple goal of mixing things up.

More than any other Saluki on Saturday night, Dale attacked the holes in the SMS zone with his penetration, his heads up passing, his jump shot and, more than anything else, his hustle.

“I saw that we were kind of sluggish tonight, so I just came out trying to play hard on the defensive end, trying to get rebounds, assists, anything I could do to get the crowd into the game and get us sparked up a little bit,” Dale said.

“Our big men weren’t down there moving, we weren’t screening each other. [Lowery] just put me in and told me to get some movement.”

Dale did all of the above in leading the Salukis with 15 points, tying a career-high, while also contributing two rebounds, two assists and many more heads up plays that led to easy SIU buckets.

With 8:37 to play Dale, surrounded in the middle of the Bears’ 2-3, turned to his left and found Jamaal Tatum wide open for three to cut the lead to 47-45, just one example of how Dale helped the team without shooting the ball.

When he did pull the trigger, the results were just as good. Dale finished 5-for-5 from the field, including two consecutive first-half three pointers that helped to keep the Salukis within striking distance at the intermission. He was also 3-for-4 from the free throw line.

Although Dale was not credited with any steals, he knocked away at least two passes that turned into SMS turnovers, like just before the 11:49 media timeout when he deflected a pass that hit Shavies before going out of bounds. Dale’s defensive intensity had a hand in more than a few of the Salukis’ 16 steals and SMS’ 23 turnovers.

While Dale’s defensive stats don’t reflect it, the sophomore’s biggest contribution was stunting SMS power forward Nathan Bilyeu, who penetrated the SIU defense at will – until Dale was assigned to guard him.

The 6-foot-6 Bilyeu wound up with eight points and four assists, nearly all coming before Dale entered the picture at power forward to guard him.

“What helped out the most was him on defense guarding Bilyeu because I think Bilyeu is more of a three, four kind of guy because he can dribble the ball a little bit,” said Josh Warren, who banked in the game winning three-pointer with time winding down. “Mike matched up better with him and stopped his penetration.”

Darren Brooks, who led the Salukis with six assists and a game-high eight steals, was impressed with Dale’s all-around effort.

“He was a real big spark for us,” Brooks said. “He played the four position, a position he never plays, and he just stepped up to the challenge. He just played with confidence. That’s the whole thing.”

Thanks to Dale and a desperation shot by the unlikeliest of heroes, the first-place Salukis are in prime position at the conclusion of winter break for a fourth consecutive Valley championship.

“Anytime you can be undefeated in conference, you have to be happy,” Lowery said.

Reporter Adam Soebbing can be reached at [email protected]