Daily Egyptian

SIU couldn’t recover from big early deficit in loss to No. 11 Louisville

Sophomore+guard+Armon+Fletcher+attempts+a+layup+Wednesday%2C+Dec.+7%2C+2016%2C+during+the+Salukis%27+74-51+loss+to+the+Cardinals+at+the+KFC+Yum%21+Center+in+Louisville%2C+Ky.+%28Athena+Chrysanthou+%7C+%40Chrysant1Athena%29+
Sophomore guard Armon Fletcher attempts a layup Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, during the Salukis' 74-51 loss to the Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

Sophomore guard Armon Fletcher attempts a layup Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, during the Salukis' 74-51 loss to the Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

Sophomore guard Armon Fletcher attempts a layup Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, during the Salukis' 74-51 loss to the Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

By Sean Carley

Saluki men’s basketball spotted Louisville a 21-4 lead in the first eight minutes and the Cardinals didn’t look back.

The Louisville big men were a force all night long en route to a 74-51 victory for the No. 11 Cardinals.

“They went down at us,” coach Barry Hinson said. “We knew they were going to. Obviously, our game plan was to deal with it a bit better than what that was.”

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Cardinal senior center Mangok Mathiang scored the first seven points of the game. Louisville (8-1) scored 13 points before SIU (5-4) could tally a point.

Mathiang finished with a team-high 15 points. He was joined on the interior by sophomore forward Deng Adel who earned his first career double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Overall, Louisville big men did a large majority of the damage in the game. Its forwards and centers combined for 54 points, 37 rebounds and eight blocks.

“It was tough to get anything going offensively in the paint,” SIU senior forward Sean O’Brien said of Louisville’s big men. “You beat one guy and there’s another one … waiting for you. We didn’t do a great job attacking and we didn’t hit enough jump shots.”

O’Brien was one of the bright spots for the Salukis. He earned his second double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

He made two of SIU’s first three baskets and sparked a 10-2 Saluki run that cut the lead to nine with 7:10 left in the first half.

Junior forward Thik Bol attempts to shoot a basket Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, during the Salukis' 74-51 loss to the Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

From then on, the first half was a game of runs.

The Cardinals responded with a lengthy 12-2 run of their own before a 9-0 Saluki run ended the first half with an 11-point Louisville lead.

“We actually came into the locker room and felt really good in comparison to when we played at Arkansas,” Hinson said. “I was actually kind of encouraged, but we just had a flurry when they went on a 13-0 run with four straight turnovers.”

The second half continued the string of runs as Louisville scored nine points in the first four minutes to SIU’s two.

The Salukis’ lone bucket in that time was a layup by senior guard Mike Rodriguez, who tied O’Brien with 15 points.

That duo was the vast majority of the Saluki offense throughout the game as the other nine players to enter the game shot 8-35 from the field during the game.

“When your two starting guards [senior Leo Vincent and sophomore Armon Fletcher] go 4-20 and your starting center [junior Thik Bol] gets one rebound, we’re not going to beat anybody,” Hinson said. “Much less, we’re not going to beat anybody on Saturday, or next week or whenever if we play like we played today. We got to find a lineup that wants to compete out here and that’s not going to get scared.”

Louisville used the rest of the second half to slowly build its lead to the final 23-point margin.

Despite the Salukis losing by a wide margin, Rodriguez said there’s still positives to take away from this game.

“Even though we lost by 23, we still took a step forward,” he said. “Once we get to the Wichita’s, we’re gonna see a little something like that on the defensive end. We have to get more gritty in every other game.”

The Salukis will try to brush off the loss at 1 p.m. Saturday when Sam Houston State comes to SIU Arena.

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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