SIU heats up after half time to win season opener

By Aaron Graff, @Aarongraff_DE

Saluki men’s basketball was 0-14 when trailing at half last season, but is 1-0 in that category so far this season.

Southern Illinois (1-0) tipped off the season at home with a 77-75 win against the Air Force Falcons (0-1). 

“[Basketball] is a cerebral game,” coach Barry Hinson said. “It’s a hard game to play. We’re not a real cerebral team compared to Air Force. No disrespect to our players and staff. Those guys are making 32 on their ACT’s.”

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Air Force led 38-30 after the first half.

SIU shot 34.3 percent in the first half, and made four of 10 free throws compared to Air Force’s 48.1 percent and 11 of 15 free throws.

Junior guard Mike Rodriguez, who made his Saluki debut, led the team at the half with nine points. Falcons’ junior forward Hayden Graham led all scorers with 12 points.

The Salukis ended the half with what seemed to be a buzzer-beating layup from redshirt freshman guard Armon Fletcher. After review, it was ruled a shot clock violation, which put six-tenths of a second back on the clock.

Air Force extended its lead to as many as 15 less than two minutes into the second half before SIU started chipping away, making it a three-point game with 10:43 left in the half.

Smithpeters gave the Salukis their first lead of the half, 61-60, with a three-pointer with roughly six minutes left.

There were two ties and two lead changes from there.

Air Force had nine seconds to tie or take the lead with a three-pointer, but turned the ball over. Senior guard Anthony Beane fell on the ball with two seconds left and held on to secure the victory. 

SIU shot 50 percent in the second half from the floor and made 11 of 17 free throws compared to Air Force’s 37.5 percent and 16 of 18 free throws.

There were a total of 47 fouls and three players fouled out, including Fletcher and junior forward Sean O’Brien.

Graham led all scorers with 19 points. He posted a double-double with 10 rebounds, which led his team. Sophomore guard Trevor Lyons followed with 18 points and eight rebounds.

Four Salukis recorded double figures in points. Rodriguez, who made his regular season Saluki debut, led the team with 15 points.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for all my life,” he said. “It felt good.”

Smithpeters followed with 14. Beane recorded 13. Fletcher posted 10 points.

“Considering this is his first Division I game, the little stinker played pretty dog gone good,” Hinson said in reference of Fletcher.

Junior center Bola Olaniyan grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the team. He contributed with eight points. 

Beane said the team did all the little things to win and every returning player has improved.

Last year, the Salukis finished with a 12-21 overall record.

“I’ve let last year go,” Hinson said. “I had to let last year go in May. I woke up one morning and I said, ‘Let it go. People are upset at you.’ It’s going to be that way for the rest of my life. My wife’s upset with me 24/7, so I’m used to it.”

SIU plays Florida A&M at 3 p.m. Sunday at SIU Arena.

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