CARBONDALE — Cindy Stein’s young team took a major step up in competition Friday night and avoided stubbing their toes.
After breezing through the exhibition season, the Saluki women faced recent nemesis UT-Martin. The Skyhawks owned five victories in the last six meetings over SIU. With a starting lineup that featured two freshmen and two sophomores, the Salukis opened the regular season with a 84-72 win over the Skyhawks.
And, the freshmen played pivotal roles.
Makenzie Silvey has 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Abby Brockmeyer was 3-of-4 from the field and had eight rebounds while scoring nine. Rachel Pudlowski logged 12 minutes, had five points, three rebounds and an assist.
“Honestly, I was very impressed with our freshmen,” said SIU coach Cindy Stein. “I really thought there would be a lot more nerves. I was ready for if this kid gets a little rattled. We had a game plan for if they got off kilter. That never came.”
Kylie Giebelhausen, the team’s lone senior, scored 25 points in the win and seconded Stein’s assessment.
“I was really impressed,” she said. “I think I came into the game knowing they were capable, but I didn’t want to put pressure on them. They really prepared themselves tonight. I felt like we had some chemistry. Some days it feels really good and some days it feels off. That’s going to happen with a young team.”
The Salukis started the game on fire, rolling to a quick 15-4 lead, fueled by five points from Brockmeyer. SIU had a 21-16 lead after the first quarter.
The Salukis struggled offensively and defensively in the second quarter, but still managed a 41-39 halftime lead. The Skyhawks put 23 points on the board in the third quarter, including three straight treys by Kendall Spray in a 41-second span.
SIU did it’s best to fuel the UT-Martin offense, turning the ball over six times.
The Salukis opened the third quarter on a 12-2 run, including a pair of Silvey treys, a Brockmeyer score inside and a couple Giebelhausen buckets to regain control of the game.
“If Mack and Abby don’t step up, I would not have had open shots,” Giebelhausen said. “That was one of the things I worried about. I was reserved with my shooting my freshman year. We wanted them to be aggressive.”
In addition, the Salukis also tightened the screws on the defensive end, limiting the Skyhawks to just six third quarter points. SIU had 14 steals in the game, the most during Stein’s tenure.
“I felt like our first quarter and our third quarter, the start of those, really propelled us this game,” Stein said. “It gave us some cushion. I think the biggest thing was, I think you witness our energy was high. We play hard. We’re up and down the floor. I think our pace is much faster this year, but when we have to slow it up, we can.”
The Salukis took a 63-45 advantage into the fourth quarter.
Since SIU’s defense kept the Skyhawks off the board, UT-Martin couldn’t set up its press. Issues against the press led to 10 first-half turnovers.
“We definitely expected their press,” Stein said. “I felt like it beat us last year. We wanted to make sure it didn’t beat us this game.
“UT-Martin has great length. They trap quick. We had to make sure we kept moving. We did a good job of making adjustments.”
In addition to Giebelhausen’s 25 points and Silvey’s 15, the Salukis got 10 points and eight rebounds from sophomore Nicole Martin. Point guard Kristen Nelson had just four points, but stuffed the stat sheet with eight assists and four steals.
Spray led UT-Martin with 20 points.
SIU returns to action Monday at University of Alabama-Birmingham.