CARBONDALE - The most frustrating part of Southern Illinois University's current two-game slide has been the fact that it's biggest problem can't be fixed outside of game day.
While rebounding, shooting and ball-handling can be perfected in a drill, the Salukis' men's basketball team has found the only thing it can't fix in a practice. In their last five games, all decided by six or less points, the Salukis have battled into the last two minutes. Four times, they've missed a game-winning shot, allowed a critical offensive rebound, or given away one too many possessions to get a potentially-winning shot.
"We've always taken pride in doing stuff at the end of a game, but you've got to do it at the end of the game," said SIU coach Chris Lowery. "We can practice it all we want. At some point, you have to do it and it's different situations."
Unfortunately for the Salukis, different players have struggled in different games. Carlton Fay lost the ball with SIU down three in the final seconds of Wednesday night's 77-72 loss at Missouri State. Tony Freeman turned it over on a critical possession at No. 19 Northern Iowa, which helped the Panthers hold on for a 55-52 victory. Kevin Dillard missed a short jumper that might have clipped Wichita State on Jan. 31.
If all goes well at 2:05 p.m. today against Evansville (7-17, 1-13 Missouri Valley Conference), SIU (13-11, 5-9 MVC) won't know if it's turned the corner with its execution. The Salukis led 13-3 at Evansville on Jan. 16, were up by 10 at halftime and never let the lead dip below eight the last eight minutes of their 65-57 win. SIU tied a season high with 14 offensive rebounds and got three players into double figures.
However, UE may have turned a corner earlier this week. The Purple Aces, the seventh team in MVC history to lose its first 13 league games, became the first to end the streak. Junior forward James Haarsma scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds to help UE top second-place Wichita State, 65-62, on Tuesday in Evansville, Ind.
The previous six teams that started 0-13 finished without a league victory.
"It's no time to quit," Freeman said. "We're just going to keep chipping away. When we watch film, we see why we lose down the stretch, so it's no surprise why we keep losing. It's turnovers, a key stop, or a key block-out that we've got to do."
firstname.lastname@example.org / 618-351-5087