Saluki men becoming road warriors this season

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Saluki men becoming road warriors this season

SIU men's basketball coach Barry Hinson squats during SIU's 83-58 loss to the Shockers on Jan. 9 at SIU Arena. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

SIU men's basketball coach Barry Hinson squats during SIU's 83-58 loss to the Shockers on Jan. 9 at SIU Arena. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

SIU men's basketball coach Barry Hinson squats during SIU's 83-58 loss to the Shockers on Jan. 9 at SIU Arena. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

SIU men's basketball coach Barry Hinson squats during SIU's 83-58 loss to the Shockers on Jan. 9 at SIU Arena. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

After winning two games away from home last season, the Saluki men’s basketball team has become one of the best road teams in the country this year.

SIU is 7-0 on the road so far this season, which is the best in Division I, and one of seven teams undefeated in hostile territory.

Coach Barry Hinson attributed the success away from home to the shift in team chemistry this year.

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“Our guys don’t feel as much pressure on the road,” Hinson said. “When you get to the road you feel like ‘OK, we know what we have to do,’ it’s just our little group in the foxhole.”

MORE: Scouting the SycamoresWhat we learned from SIU’s win over Drake

Hinson said he believes the Dawgs’ (17-3, 6-1) resiliency helps out on the road as well.

“They’re pretty thick-skinned,” he said. “We got a lot of buffalo hide out there.”

For the players, being on the road means playing in a hostile environment in front of raucous fans who’d rather heckle than support.

Junior guard Tyler Smithpeters says this leaves a void that the team is responsible for filling.

“We have to bring our own energy when we’re on the road,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. … When we got down by two [Sunday night] at Drake, we never panicked, we just played our game.”

The team has three new players from junior colleges who had to get used to the louder road games of Division I programs.

Junior guard Leo Vincent — who transferred to SIU from Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pa. — said there’s other differences as well. He said junior college bus rides are typically one or two hours, while NCAA trips can be eight or nine hours.

These long rides help motivate the team.

“We don’t want to be on a five-hour ride home thinking ‘I wish we could have this one back,'” Smithpeters said.

Out of the six other undefeated teams, three — Southern Methodist, Providence and Gonzaga — are either ranked or receiving votes in the AP top-25 poll.

The road trips home, which have all been positive to this point, double as a team bonding outing, Vincent said.

“That’s a huge thing just spending time with [the team],” Vincent said. “I love getting to hang out with these guys.”

Saluki fans are hoping this team is still “hanging out” deep into March. With the success the team has had on the road and in conference, that is a very real possibility. 

Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3304.

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