‘DE-FENSE!’: SIU men’s and women’s basketball defense is paying off

By Brooke Buerck, Sports Reporter

If there’s one thing that has been important for both SIU men’s and women’s basketball programs this season, it’s been defense and that focus on the defensive end has been paying off. 

After losing three of their first five Missouri Valley Conference matchups, Saluki men’s basketball team has taken matters in their own hands.

Thanks to two wins this past week over Valley contenders Loyola Chicago and Drake, Southern now shares the second place ranking with the Ramblers. 

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It was on Jan. 29 when SIU redeemed their 64-48 loss on the road to Loyola from earlier in the season with a 68-63 win against them at Banterra Center. 

Following that Jan. 16 loss at Chicago, Saluki head coach Bryan Mullins said his team’s defense had given up too many driving lanes for Loyola’s guards, who took advantage of this. 

The Ramblers also had 11 more rebounds than Southern during this matchup, pulling down 35 to SIU’s 24. 

On Jan. 29, their second season appearance against Loyola, the Salukis kicked off the first half of play with an aggressive defensive effort that also accumulated a total of nine team fouls.

By halftime, the Ramblers were 5-for-5 from the free throw line as SIU trailed 33-31.

One way that Southern made up for this on the defensive end was with graduate student center Barret Benson’s efforts to shut down Loyola junior center Cameron Krutwig.

After putting up 13 points in the first half, the Salukis limited Krutwig to just one basket in the second period of play.

“Barret stepped up in the second half,” Mullins said following the Jan. 29 game. “He played physical defense, he was disciplined,…and he did a great job of using his chest and not his hands. I thought he really competed tonight.”

Following their home win, the Salukis took their momentum with them on the road to Des Moines to help them take town Drake on Feb. 1. 

Southern Illinois was able to stave off a Drake second half comeback attempt after holding the Bulldogs to 29 points at halftime. 

Their defense kept the Bulldogs to 2-for-11 in 3-point shooting during the first half, while the Salukis went 8-for-12 from 3-point range.

While Drake outscored Southern 43-37, freshman guard Marcus Domask said SIU’s ability to remain calm on both offense and defense allowed them to prevent the Bulldogs from taking the lead.

“I think that we just stay calm, because on the road it’s easy to get sped up with the crowd getting into it and them kind of getting in your head, but I think we just stayed calm and [kept] in control,” Domask said.

This composure gave the Salukis a 79-72 victory on Drake’s home court, which ended the Bulldogs’ 15-game home winning streak while surging SIU to a second place MVC standing.

On the Saluki women’s side of play, defense helped Southern take down the first-ranked MVC team, Bradley, on Feb. 2. 

SIU looked to improve upon the week after their 62-54 loss to Illinois State at Banterra Center on Jan. 31. 

After holding a halftime lead of 27-25, the Redbirds used an 8-0 run against the Salukis in the fourth quarter to extend their lead.

One area where Southern struggled was rebounding, as ISU grabbed 38 rebounds to the Salukis’ 27.

“I think we played hard, I think the details got away from us today, and that’s where we’ve got to continue to get better,” Saluki head coach Cindy Stein said on Jan. 31. “I thought defensively we were doing everything we [could] to hold them, but rebounding was an issue with us not grabbing the ball […] and those little details are so important.”

Saluki junior forward Gabby Walker attributed this rebounding issue to her team rushing the ball.

“I think we were just moving a little too fast, so instead of focusing on just catching the ball and then moving onto the next thing, we were already moving onto the next thing before we could even get our hands on the ball,” Walker said after their Jan. 31 game. 

Southern wouldn’t end the weekend without a win, however, as they turned around to face Bradley University at Banterra Center on Feb. 2. 

The Salukis found their win by holding the Braves to a 50-point game, which was 22 points lower than their season average and 51 points lower than their season-high of 101 points scored against Eureka College.

“I was proud of our defensive effort,” Stein said on Feb. 2 after her team’s 64-50 win. “We came up with big shots when we needed them and offensively we took care of the ball. When we do that good things happen. I’m very proud of our effort today.”

Shooting-wise, Southern went 26-for-61 from the field and held Bradley to 36% shooting with the Braves making 18 out of 50 shots.

On the defensive side of the ball, SIU recorded a team-high of 16 steals, with senior guard Brittney Patrick leading the team with six.

At halftime, the Salukis led by nine points and held off Bradley’s offense by outscoring them in all but the fourth quarter.

In addition, SIU held the Braves to single-digit scoring only in the first and third quarters of the game and a 3-for-14 finish from the 3-point line.

With their upset of the number-one MVC team, SIU women’s basketball advances to a third place MVC standing tie with Illinois State and University of Northern Iowa.

Saluki women’s basketball’s defense will be tested once again during their Feb. 7 matchup at Des Moines against Drake University, who currently stands at second place in the MVC along with Bradley.

For SIU men’s basketball, the Salukis will take their defense on the road to Evansville on Feb. 5 to face the Purple Aces, who currently stand in last place in the conference. 

Tip-off for both games is set for 6 p.m.

Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25.

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