Daily Egyptian

Scouting Senior Night

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

Saturday will be senior night in SIU Arena but the game may be more important for the opposing team.

SIU (21-9, 10-7 Missouri Valley Conference) is the only obstacle in Missouri State’s (12-17, 8-9 MVC) way of the sixth place in the conference, while the Dawgs are locked into the No. 4/5 matchup of the tournament.

“They’ve got something to really play for,” coach Barry Hinson said. “I know we got senior night to play for but we’re going to be in that four-five slot, it doesn’t matter. They’re playing to not play in a play-in game and that’s huge, so we’re going to get them at their best.”

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With a win, Missouri State would be the No. 6 seed for the MVC Tournament. With a loss, the Bears could be as low as the No. 8 seed depending on Loyola and Indiana State’s results Saturday afternoon.

SIU is currently tied with Northern Iowa for fourth. Because of the team’s split in head-to-head matchups and Northern Iowa’s higher RPI ranking, it is likely the only way SIU becomes the No. 4 seed is with a win and a UNI loss at Evansville, which is fighting for the No. 2 seed with Illinois State.

With all the uncertainty, one thing is guaranteed: four Salukis will be honored tomorrow.

Senior guard Anthony Beane, centers Ibby Djimde and Deng Leek and undergraduate assistant coach Chase Heins, a former player who served on the coaching staff after a career-ending knee injury, will receive recognition before the game.

All three players will start tomorrow in what Hinson called “the biggest starting lineup I’ve ever ran out.”

For Deng and Djimde, tomorrow will be a culmination of two years playing in a Saluki uniform. Djimde transferred to SIU after playing two years at Illinois while Deng transferred from Jacksonville College in Jacksonville, Texas.

“It’s surprising how fast two years went by,” Leek said. “I’m really excited for senior night and seeing all the fans support me.”

Meanwhile, Beane will be playing in his last regular-season game in SIU Arena as the third-highest scorer in program history with 1,881 career points.

“It’s just been a blessing,” he said. “First, just to come here and be in the situation I was in and to have the people around me that I had help me just to help me develop the four years I’ve been here.”

As for the game itself, Hinson said there is no game in the season more important than senior night.

“It’s incredibly special,” he said. “The most important game you play every year, in my opinion, is senior night. It’s not the first game, it’s not the first game in conference, it’s not the game to win the championship. You have a culmination of these gentlemen who have been here either two, three or four years, and we have an opportunity to pay respect to them in the last game in our facility.”

While the game counts just the same as the other in the win-loss column, Hinson said a win before the conference tournament is crucial.

“I think it’s huge,” he said. “You can ask me Saturday night after the game, will this game propel you into the tournament? Certainly. Any time you win right before you go into conference tournament season it’s big because the road games are over. Everything is in a neutral site from here on out and I think that’s a positive.”

Coming off of Wednesday’s tough loss to Illinois State, the Salukis held a “open-forum” team meeting to clear the air.

Hinson said the team discussed its handling of expectations from fans and how fans react to the team’s recent struggles.

Regardless of what happens both tomorrow and in the future, Hinson had one message for his team.

“The bottom line is these kids have done a phenomenal job,” he said. “I told them I think the world of you. I respect you. I care for you. I love you. Quite frankly, I’m fired up.”

The Salukis face the Missouri State Bears at 7 p.m. Saturday in SIU Arena.

Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307.

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