Daily Egyptian

Scouting the Braves

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

SIU men’s basketball has just one word on it’s mind going into Wednesday’s matchup with Bradley: focus.

The Salukis’ (20-7, 9-5 Missouri Valley Conference) coaches and players emphasized the importance of staying focused and not letting the incredibly young Bradley Braves (4-23, 2-12 MVC), derail the team’s larger goals.

“Our biggest concern right now is just this next game,” coach Barry Hinson said. “We felt like even during our four-game skid our sights got off track thinking about bigger things and numbers … what we’ve done is said ‘Okay, next game and next game only.'”

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Bradley’s first-year coach Brian Wardle isn’t the only Brave making his first trip to SIU Arena — he leads the most inexperienced team in Division I, according to Kenpom.com. Only one upperclassman, senior Ka’Darryl Bell, has played this season. Sophomore forward Donte Thomas is the only other non-freshman to play for the Braves this season.

Bradley comes into the game with the worst overall record in the MVC, but beat Indiana State on Feb. 6, showing the team has improved and is gaining confidence.

“They’re starting to score the ball a lot more,” freshman guard Armon Fletcher said. “When you score more it just gives you a lot more confidence, and we just have to take that down real quick.”

In its last five games, Bradley has averaged 60.4 points per game — in the previous 22, it averaged 53.4.

Hinson said he wants the Salukis to stomp out that confidence as early as possible.

“The thing that we want to do against Bradley is get off to a great start,” he said. “Then get off to another great start in the second half.”

In the previous matchup, SIU defeated Bradley 65-44. SIU led by as much as 27 in the second half, but allowed the Braves to inch closer with two minutes to play.

“When we played Bradley the last time, we played good for about 30 minutes and we really played bad basketball the last 10 minutes,” Hinson said. “I was very upset at how we played against them the last time.”

The Braves leading scorer, freshman guard Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye, is one player Hinson says has progressed since last game. 

“He’s gotten a lot better,” Hinson said. “When his distribution numbers go up it’s because those guys are scoring. That makes him look a lot better as well.”

He has improved from 2.3 assists per game last time the teams played to 2.8. 

But Lautier-Ogunleye will need to take care of the ball for his team to win. The Braves turn the ball over more than any Division I team with 457 turnovers, almost 17 per game. SIU averages 13.4 per game, leaving the potential for this game to get sloppy quick.

If the Dawgs can hold on to the ball and take advantage of Bradley’s inexperience, they should not have a problem extending their winning streak to three games.

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

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