Sunday was a good day for Saluki basketball.
The Saluki men and women’s basketball teams both faced important games against Bradley. Both teams rose to the occasion defeating the Braves.
It was a bigger day for the Saluki women.
Illinois State had a major hand in making today’s SIU basketball doubleheader with Bradley crucial.
The underclass-heavy team was facing its first serious dose of adversity. The previous weekend the women had taken the perilous Iowa road trip, traveling to UNI’s McLeod Center and Drake.
The McLeod Center is where SIU teams, no matter how good they are, go to struggle. The Saluki men have won just once at the McLeod Center since the facility opened in 2006. The women have won there just twice.
And Drake? No one wins at Drake. The Lady Bulldogs are currently on a 35-game Missouri Valley Conference winning streak. The Salukis have just five victories at Drake since 1990.
Not surprisingly, the Salukis emerged from that road trip 0-2.
Then, SIU struggled mightily Friday night, losing a very winnable game to Illinois State 39-36. The loss to the Redbirds dropped the Salukis to fourth in the MVC standings. Saluki coach Cindy Stein candidly admitted that the rigors of the college season are wearing on freshmen Makenzie Silvey, Abby Brockmeyer and Rachel Pudlowski.
Another loss could have seriously crippled the team’s confidence. However, the team regained its composure and came away with a 62-53 win. For the record, Silvey led the team with 15 points while Brockmeyer had nine points and seven boards.
And, the Salukis made a statement in the win. After shooting just 23 percent Friday, they came out firing early, rolling to a 12-2 lead. Bradley made a late run at SIU, but the Salukis held serve.
In the meantime, the men were coming off a disappointing overtime loss at Illinois State. Bradley had defeated the Salukis earlier in the year at Peoria. A loss to the Braves would have potentially pushed the Salukis into fourth place and put them just a game away from the dreaded play-in round at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
The recipe for success for the men was slightly different than the women.
For 23 minutes SIU and Bradley traded buckets. Enter Aaron Cook.
Cook, a sophomore guard, missed four free throws in the overtime loss at Illinois State. He had just three points in the first half. But, with SIU trailing by three early in the second half, Cook buried a 3-pointer to tie the game.
Twenty seconds later he topped that shot with another trey, giving the Salukis a lead they would never relinquish. And, when Bradley cut the SIU lead to five points at about the 14-minute mark, Cook struck again.
The Salukis pulled away late, winning 74-57. The victory, combined with Illinois State’s loss at Valparaiso, gave SIU sole possession of second place.
However, in the world of college basketball, you can only afford to bask in the success for a few moments.
When asked about the Salukis postseason prospects, Saluki coach Barry Hinson stated, “All I’m thinking about is Missouri State.”
The Bears will be at the Arena tonight for the latest biggest game of the year.
LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.