Three freshmen crack original starting lineup

Three freshmen crack original starting lineup

By Tyler Dixon

Coach Barry Hinson said last week the starters for the Salukis would be different in Saturday’s game against Missouri State, and he was not kidding.

Three freshmen were in the starting lineup for the first time this season. Sean O’Brien has been a staple in the rotation for the majority of the season, but Tyler Smithpeters and Bola Olaniyan got their first starts as Salukis.

At the beginning of the season it looked like Smithpeters would not be able to play Division I basketball, but that is all starting to change. For the last two games, he has been shooting well from the 3-point line and has been a complete player. He reached career highs in points, rebounds and assists in Saturday’s loss to the Bears. Smithpeters is not a point guard, but he is a shooter. He needs to get the ball off of screens in order to find his shot.

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Each week it seems the Salukis have a new issue to overcome but a constant is the play inside the paint, or lack thereof.

The loss to the Bears was the emergence of Olaniyan. The physical tools Olaniyan possesses are indescribable. He is big, strong and has a nose for finding the basketball coming off of the rim. Olaniyan needs to be in the line-up over senior Davante Drinkard.

Hinson said he does not like to hear that “as senior Desmar Jackson goes, so do the Salukis,” but it is true. He is the best player on the team by far, and can put the team on his back. Jackson can single-handedly bring SIU back into a game. Jackson needs to be on the court as much as possible, but playing at least 35 minutes per game is insane. The past few games have shown Jackson is a complete player. He is scoring and also playing solid defense. Jackson is currently leading the Missouri Valley Conference in steals.

After Wednesday’s game against Indiana State, the Salukis will have played every team in the MVC at least once, with wins against Loyola and Northern Iowa.

The Salukis need to get wins against weaker teams in the Valley if they do not want to play on the opening night of the MVC Tournament in St. Louis. Even with SIU sitting in last place, they do have the ability to win against better opponents. The Salukis have a favorable home schedule with games against Bradley, Loyola, Illinois State and Missouri State.

The win over UNI was huge for the team, but it does not look as good on paper after the Panthers fell to Loyola Saturday.

SIU faces Indiana State Wednesday with the Sycamores currently second in the MVC with a 7-1 conference record, their only loss coming from the Shockers of Wichita State. SIU has lost 11 games this season by 10 or fewer points. That’s a terrible stat for a coach to see. The loss against Drake could have been easily turned around with four more made free throws.

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Even with losing three straight conference games, it is looking as if the team is getting back on track, but it has to be a team effort.

Tyler Dixon can be reached at [email protected]@tdixon_de or 536-3311 ext. 256.

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