Daily Egyptian

3 things we learned from last week’s SIU men’s basketball games

SIU+coach+Barry+Hinson+yells+to+his+players+during+the+Salukis%E2%80%99+74-70+win+over+Texas+Southern+on+Saturday%2C+Dec.+3%2C+2016%2C+at+SIU+Arena.+%28Jacob+Wiegand+%7C+%40jawiegandphoto%29
SIU coach Barry Hinson yells to his players during the Salukis’ 74-70 win over Texas Southern on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, at SIU Arena. (Jacob Wiegand | @jawiegandphoto)

SIU coach Barry Hinson yells to his players during the Salukis’ 74-70 win over Texas Southern on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, at SIU Arena. (Jacob Wiegand | @jawiegandphoto)

SIU coach Barry Hinson yells to his players during the Salukis’ 74-70 win over Texas Southern on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, at SIU Arena. (Jacob Wiegand | @jawiegandphoto)

Over the last seven days, SIU men’s basketball grinded out two tough wins against underrated opponents with an overtime win against Murray State and a last-minute victory over Texas Southern.

Here’s what fans can take away from those games.

1. This year’s squad is far more resilient than last year’s.

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These types of wins count in more than just the win column. They show the nature of a team.

The Murray State game felt a lot like last year’s game at home against Evansville, when D.J. Balentine also sent the game into overtime with a buzzer-beater 3-pointer.

Senior guard Mike Rodriguez said the team felt the same way, but handled it entirely different. He said that last year, the Salukis hung their heads in defeat. This year, they stood strong and held their ground.

Senior guard Mike Rodriguez gets fouled as he goes to the rim during the Salukis' 89-85 win against Murray State on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, at SIU Arena. (Sean Carley | @SCarleyDE)

Senior guard Mike Rodriguez gets fouled as he goes to the rim during the Salukis’ 89-85 win against Murray State on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, at SIU Arena. (Sean Carley | @SCarleyDE)

In both games, SIU had a chance to put its opponent away and didn’t — which is an issue — but the fact they still found ways to win shows resilience.

Last season’s overtime loss started a four-game losing streak. We’ll see what an overtime win does for the team.

2. Armon Fletcher is the real deal.

After Saturday’s game, coach Barry Hinson said sophomore guard Armon Fletcher “is going to be paid to play basketball one day.”

Based on where he is right now, that may seem like a pipe dream but it really may not be.

Fletcher brings something to every facet of the game.

Saluki sophomore guard Armon Fletcher and Racer junior guard Jonathan Stark race for a loose ball Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, during SIU's 89-85 overtime win against Murray State at SIU Arena. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Saluki sophomore guard Armon Fletcher and Racer junior guard Jonathan Stark race for a loose ball Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, during SIU’s 89-85 overtime win against Murray State at SIU Arena. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

He can nail the 3-pointer — currently shooting 43.6 percent. His length at the guard position helps keep defenders outside — tied for second on the team with five blocks. His athleticism and basketball IQ are off the charts — leads team with 14 steals.

This is all with him playing just 40 games of collegiate basketball.

Given he stays healthy and otherwise eligible, he has about two-thirds of his career to continue to improve.

If he improves every year as much as he did from last year to this year, he will likely be paid to play basketball.

Will he play in the NBA? Who knows. Will he have the opportunity to play overseas or in South America? More than likely.

3. SIU will live and die by the play of its guards.

The play at the forward position has been fairly consistent this season.

You can count on about 10 points, six rebounds and five assists from senior Sean O’Brien nearly every game. Junior Thik Bol will contribute around another 10 points and six rebounds, but add a couple blocks.

Junior forward Thik Bol prepares to make a free throw near the conclusion of the Salukis’ 74-70 win over Texas Southern on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, at SIU Arena. (Jacob Wiegand | @jawiegandphoto)

Junior forward Thik Bol prepares to make a free throw near the conclusion of the Salukis’ 74-70 win over Texas Southern on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, at SIU Arena. (Jacob Wiegand | @jawiegandphoto)

Sophomores Austin Weiher and Rudy Stradnieks will come in and give those two valuable rest while still putting up a couple points and grabbing a few rebounds.

So because of that, the guards will decide most of SIU’s games.

Luckily for SIU, the three starting guards have been solid all year.

Rodriguez, Fletcher and senior Leo Vincent are the top three scorers on the team at 14.5, 13.5 and 11.6 points per game, respectively.

In addition to those two, sophomore Sean Lloyd and freshman Aaron Cook have each provided quality outings off the bench.

Sophomore guard Sean Lloyd kicks his leg into the air following a play near the conclusion of the Salukis' 72-67 exhibition victory against UMSL on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, at SIU Arena. Lloyd scored a team high 13 points in the game. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

Jacob Wiegand
Sophomore guard Sean Lloyd kicks his leg into the air following a play near the conclusion of the Salukis’ 72-67 exhibition victory against UMSL on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, at SIU Arena. Lloyd scored a team high 13 points in the game. (Jacob Wiegand | @JacobWiegand_DE)

However, Vincent and Rodriguez have each had multiple games where they struggled to put the ball in the basket, especially from long distance.

If the three starters can find a way to nail down their shooting, SIU should be a top-five team in the Missouri Valley.

Sports editor Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SeanMCarley.

To stay up to date with all your SIU basketball news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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