Successful weekend could spur Salukis’ season

By Tyler Davis

The first week of Saluki basketball is best described as a microcosm of what the rest of the season could look like. A close loss on the road, against a good team, was followed by a decisive win on the road, against a bad one.

This team’s consistency will be the defining characteristic of the season. Not talent or scoring. Not coaching or bench players.

The first two games of the year were not a surprise. Saint Louis University provided an early test, and possibly the hardest non-conference game of the season. The young Salukis responded well, by limiting mistakes and playing tough defense.

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But one veteran scorer, Austin McBroom, was able to propel the Billikens past the Saluki pups.

SIU won big Tuesday night against Tennessee State University, although the Tigers are not a great or deep team. After all, the team was picked to finish last in the Ohio Valley Conference and dressed just eight players against SIU.

The most noteworthy aspect of the game, besides SIU junior Anthony Beane’s career-high 32 points, was that yet another opponent, senior guard Jay Harris, had a great shooting night against SIU. Harris shot 9-15 from the field and scored 23 points.

Opponents have had a player score 20 or more points in three out of four games versus the Salukis.

Coach Barry Hinson said if the Salukis play good team defense, he is not concerned about one opposing player doing well.

“If one guy gets 50 on us and we win, and we hold a team under 39 percent or lower field goal percentage, I’m going to come out of that game saying ‘ok, we did a good job,’” he said.

Hinson said he has confidence in his team’s scoring, so if the Salukis can hold opponents to a low field goal percentage, his team will have a shot at winning most games.

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But the offense and defense will be tested during the next month, as junior Ibby Djimde will miss four to six weeks with a knee injury. While the injury does not require surgery, Hinson said the 6-foot-8 center will not be at full health for the rest of the season.

That injury comes just weeks after Hinson revealed freshman forward Jordan Caroline will be dealing with a lingering injury for the rest of the year.

With the banged-up big men, forward Sean O’Brien will remain a focal point of the team’s offense. Through two regular season games, the versatile sophomore has averaged 15 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.

He will need to keep those numbers up against a fast-paced Kent State team on Friday and an experienced Yale team Saturday.

Kent State will be a new challenge for the shorthanded Salukis. KSU is the most experienced team SIU has faced with five seniors, and also the tallest team the Salukis have faced with seven players 6-foot-7 or taller. One player, senior center Blake Vedder, is 7-foot-4.

With that height, SIU will have to rebound well to have a shot at winning. The team thoroughly outrebounded TSU but narrowly lost the battle on the boards against SLU.

Hinson said his team must match the activity of the long and active Kent State group.

“Their best offense, sometimes, is a missed shot,” he said. “They’re relentless on the glass and we have got to do a good job of getting those guys off the glass.”

Facing Yale the next day will be a different animal.

Yale has eight upperclassmen and returns leading scorer and All-Ivy selection, junior guard Justin Sears. Along with the talented guard, the Bulldogs boast a squad that is picked to finish second in the Ivy League.

These two games, plus a meeting with in-state rival University of Illinois at Chicago on Saturday, will give SIU all it can handle. These Pups have yet to play games on back-to-back nights, so playing three games in a row will be foreign as well.

This stretch of games will be a good indication of SIU’s ceiling.

SIU can play with the NCAA-tournament caliber teams. It did against SLU, but it couldn’t finish them off. Winning close games late is the mark of a good team. Hinson does not want the highlight of the season to be an almost-win against a good team.

But this team is young. It has time to learn how to win.

A couple decisive wins during the Men Against Breast Cancer Classic at Kent State, and this weekend could end up being the microcosm that appropriately describes the season.

Tyler Davis can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @TDavis_DE

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