CARBONDALE — It’s back to small ball for the SIU men’s basketball team tonight against Bradley, which may not be a completely bad thing.

The Salukis excelled in transition through a 7-5 start, scoring 20 or more points off opponents’ turnovers in half of their games. Without starting forward Dantiel Daniels, the team’s only real inside presence who will miss tonight’s game with a badly sprained right ankle, SIU is after quick defensive possessions and more full-court offense in its first home game since Dec. 17.

“We’ll have to press a little bit and we’ll have to use our speed in order for us to get points,” SIU senior guard Jeff Early said. “We’re not going to be able to just do a half-court set because we’re going to be limited in shots, because we don’t have a big man that’s going to get us a lot of offensive rebounds, so we’re just going to have to push it. That’s the best way we can play at this time of the year, with Dantiel being out.”

SIU coach Barry Hinson said Tuesday he expects to start junior forward Davante Drinkard, SIU’s only true healthy forward tonight at 6-foot-9, 243 points, or 6-2 sophomore guard/forward Josh Swan at the hybrid spot in place of Daniels. Daniels, a 6-5 lefty, is the Salukis’ third-leading scorer and rebounder.

Drinkard made his first field goal since Nov. 28 during Sunday’s 70-59 loss at Missouri State in the Salukis’ Missouri Valley Conference opener. Drinkard made 1-of-2 from the field but didn’t grab a single rebound in 11 minutes. Swan also made 1-of-2 from the field at Missouri State, grabbed two rebounds and added an assist and a steal in 14 minutes.

The Bears became only the third team this season to outrebound SIU, grabbing 26 boards to the Salukis’ 20. With Daniels, who averages 3.5 rebounds per game, the Salukis outrebounded teams by a little over three per game without a starter over 6-5. Without him, and without 6-7 forward Antonio Bryer, who left the team, off the bench, SIU’s biggest challenge tonight might be off the boards.

Bradley (9-4, 1-0 MVC) averages 1.5 less rebounds per game than its opponents, but also averages 2.7 boards more per game than SIU. Forward Tyshon Pickett, a 6-6, 220-pound junior, leads the Braves at 7.1 rebounds per game and is the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game. Bradley is expected to miss its second-best rebounder, center Will Egolf, after he was arrested Monday and charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Junior Jordan Prosser, another 6-9 center who averages 4.8 rebounds per game, one per game less than Egolf, is expected to start in his place.

Bradley ended a two-game skid with a 67-57 win over Drake on Saturday. With nine victories, the Braves already have two more than last season, when they finished a school-record worst 7-25. A win tonight would give SIU eight for the season, matching last season’s total, and, possibly, curb the drama that unfolded right before the end of the year.

In the last four days, the Salukis became the first Division I team to lose to Missouri State in 13 tries this season, lost Bryer, lost Daniels and announced they would reinstate suspended guard Diamond Taylor for the Jan. 15 game at Bradley.

Hinson, no stranger to drama since taking over SIU right before the Final Four last year, pledged to soldier on.

“It’s going to be different. We already had challenges. We had challenges all year long. I don’t think we’ve gone a week, not one week yet, where we haven’t had something that’s popped up that’s been big. We just have to get through that,” Hinson said. “We have to find some way to get some consistency. If we can get there, I think we can settle in and be a decent ball club.”


On Twitter: @Todd_Hefferman

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