CARBONDALE — Despite its lack of size, SIU’s men’s basketball team took a lot of pride in being able to not only compete, but beat most of its opponents off the glass this season.
Without a starter taller than 6-foot-5 most of the nonconference season, the Salukis outrebounded five of their first nine opponents.
Missouri Valley Conference play has been a different animal, as Bradley outrebounded SIU for the second time this season in Tuesday’s 69-66 win in Peoria.
Bradley (11-7, 3-3 MVC) grabbed 16 of its 29 rebounds at the offensive end to beat SIU (8-9, 1-5 MVC) by three off the glass. Two of those offensive boards proved costly, one off a missed free throw and another in the form of Tyshon Pickett’s tip that put the Braves up eight with 3:04 to play.
“They got a lot of hands on a lot of long rebounds, and got a lot of long rebounds. I think they had 16 offensive rebounds,” said SIU guard Jeff Early, who had a game-high 11 rebounds. “We still held them to 34.6 percent in the second half. We gotta rebound a little better, but it was there. We just came up a little bit short.”
Bradley forward Jake Eastman came up a bit short, too, with a shot to put his team up four in the final two minutes.
Eastman bricked a free throw off the front of the rim that the Braves came up with at the 1:35 mark.
Bradley took another 34 seconds off the clock and eventually held on for its first win since Jan. 2 against the Salukis.
SIU coach Barry Hinson couldn’t fault his team’s effort on the road.
“I’m disappointed that we got beat, but I’m also happy how our guys battled and played their tails off, and did what we had to give us an opportunity to win the ballgame late,” he said. “I’m not going out of here with my head down.”
The Salukis return home Sunday to begin a stretch of three home games in their next four contests.
SIU takes on Illinois State on Sunday at 7 p.m. in a nationally-televised game on ESPNU. The Salukis then go to Northern Iowa (9-9, 2-4 MVC) on Wednesday night before returning home to take on No. 12 Creighton on Jan. 27 and Drake on Jan. 30.
On Twitter: @Todd_Hefferman