Daily Egyptian

Scouting the Purple Aces

Left to right: Saluki guard Tyler Smithpeters, forward Sean O'Brien, center Bola Olaniyan and Evansville center Egidijus Mockevicius scramble for the ball during SIU’s 85-78 overtime loss the Evansville on Jan. 28 at SIU Arena. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Left to right: Saluki guard Tyler Smithpeters, forward Sean O'Brien, center Bola Olaniyan and Evansville center Egidijus Mockevicius scramble for the ball during SIU’s 85-78 overtime loss the Evansville on Jan. 28 at SIU Arena. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

SIU men’s basketball will attempt to avenge one of its most bitter defeats of the season Saturday and take some strides in the Missouri Valley Conference standings in the process.

The Salukis (21-7, 10-5 MVC) take on the Evansville Purple Aces (21-7, 10-5 MVC) in a game coach Barry Hinson said has more implications than just the game itself.

“For us it’s a really big game,” he said. “Several things are going on in front of us: We got beat by them in a game we shouldn’t have lost, we’re playing for third place, playing for an opportunity for postseason.”

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When the Aces came to Carbondale, they took victory from the Salukis’ paws when Evansville senior guard and Lute Olson Award watchlist member D.J. Balentine hit a step-back buzzer-beater to force overtime. Evansville went on to dominate the extra period going 4-4 from the field to win 85-78.

Hinson said he is unsure of the emotion of his team going into the game.

“I hope they’re angry,” he said. “I know the head coach is angry. If you play on emotion, it’s short-lived. I’m going to tell them to play angry, but they have to play angry for 40 minutes.”

Balentine and senior center Egidijus Mockevicius serve as the leaders of the team for Evansville. Balentine leads the MVC in scoring at 20.5 per game while Mockevicius is fourth at 16.8. Mockevicius also leads the nation in rebounding with 13.9 boards per game.

Balentine scored 25 points in the previous contest on 8-18 shooting, while Mockevicius scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds.

“We did a good job of slowing [Mockevicius] and Balentine, but we let [junior guard Mislav] Brzoja go off for 25 points.”

Brzoja’s 25 points were a career high, which highlights Hinson’s concern for the rest of the team.

In particular, he highlighted senior guard Adam Wing and junior guards Blake Simmons and Jaylon Brown, who all have shot 35 percent or better from long distance in Valley games.

“It’s been a big deal in preparation for these guys,” he said. “We have to guard everyone on this team. The worst 3-point shooter on their team statistically is Balentine (30.4 percent), but he makes big time shots, so we have to guard everyone.”

Brozja, Brown, Wing and Simmons combined for 50 of Evansville’s 85 points in Carbondale and average 31.6 in Valley games this season.

Even though the game is important, Hinson feels the world will not come to an end if the Salukis lose.

“It’s not an end-all, be-all game, but there’s a really big carrot at the end of the stick if we win,” he said.

A win will put SIU at least in sole possession of third place and if Illinois State loses to Northern Iowa, the Salukis will be tied for second with ISU going into their meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Normal.

A win also guarantees that the Dawgs will not play in a play-in game in the MVC tournament.

“We put ourselves in contention for a lot of things,” Hinson said. “We’re at least involved in postseason conversations, whereas last year we we’re talking about [MVC tournament] play-in games.”

Even with all the possibilities in play, the Salukis are remaining focused on the game directly ahead of them.

“One-game playoffs. That’s what I’ve told them, every game is a one-game playoff,” Hinson said.

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

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