Daily Egyptian

Saluki rebounding improving, but still a weakness

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

Men’s basketball coach Barry Hinson repeatedly said before this season the Salukis would struggle to rebound the ball as the team’s tallest regular player is just 6-foot-7.

As expected, the team ranks in the bottom half of the Missouri Valley Conference in that department, but has managed to out-rebound its opponent in 13 of 21 games. The credit for the Salukis’ (18-3, 7-1 MVC) plus-24 rebound margin this season is due to two juniors.

Center Bola Olaniyan and forward Sean O’Brien have improved rebounding numbers from last year and are in the top eight of the MVC this season. 

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Olaniyan has nearly doubled his rebounding output to 8.3 per game from last year’s 4.5. His mark is second in the MVC and 1.9 rebounds more than Indiana State junior guard Everett Clemons’ third-place average of 6.4 rebounds per game. His opponent in Thursday’s game, Evansville’s sophomore center Egidijus Mockevicius, leads the country at 14.5 rebounds per game.

Olaniyan said his coaches’ motivation pushed him to do better.

“They told me this is what I do best, so I just go do it,” he said.

Olaniyan is tied for the shortest starting center in the Valley at 6-foot-7. He said he uses instinct and toughness to make up for his smaller size.

“It’s a timing thing,” he said. “You have to see the ball and think about it that ‘This is where the ball is going’ and react. You have to want it more.”

Olaniyan treats every practice like a game by maintaining his physicality and toughness, and his teammates have taken notice.

“I’m scared to go [for a rebound] sometimes in practice,” said junior guard Tyler Smithpeters. “He just has a knack for knowing where the ball will be.”

Smithpeters isn’t the only one who noticed his teammates’ rough-and-tumble ways.

Last season Hinson said he was worried by Olaniyan’s physical style of play. He said the Nigerian center played so hard, Olaniyan actually hurt his teammates during practice. 

Meanwhile, O’Brien has improved from 4.9 rebounds per game to 6.0, tied for seventh in the MVC. He says rebounding is a natural talent that cannot be taught in practice.

“There’s not much you can work on in rebounding, you just have to want it more,” O’Brien said.

The duo’s 14.3 rebounds per game is creeping up on the rest of the team’s 20 rebound-per-game average. The 34.3 total rebounds per game is No. 7 in the MVC out of 10 teams.

Senior guard Anthony Beane (3.4) is the only other Saluki to average more than three rebounds a game this season.

Coach Barry Hinson said the rest of his team, specifically guards, must work on rebounding.

“[The guards] know that,” he said. “It’s been an emphasis, and continue to be an emphasis, and I think we’ll improve on it.”

With Evansville’s big frontcourt coming to town this week, the Salukis must improve soon. 

Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] 

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