CARBONDALE — After an auspicious beginning, SIU junior point guard Marcus Bartley largely lived up to the hype on Wednesday night in his season debut.
The 6-foot-5, 193-pound point guard came off the bench at the 15:05 mark of the first half, and promptly stepped out of bounds on the sideline for one of his two turnovers. Three possessions later, Bartley had the pass of the season, pounding a bounce pass behind a Billiken defender to a cutting Sean Lloyd along the baseline.
Lloyd caught it in stride and laid it up after getting fouled by Saint Louis forward Hasahn French with 13:53 to go in the half. Lloyd finished off the three-point play after the first of what the Salukis (4-3) hope are many assists this season from Bartley.
"We're gonna be a better basketball team with Marcus on the floor," SIU coach Barry Hinson said after SIU's 74-69 loss at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis. "He's gonna make everybody better. I know that. One of the issues we had tonight was different rotations out there that we hadn't seen, and we had a different lineup out there tonight, but, I'm excited he's back."
A projected starter before the season, Bartley missed SIU's first six games after breaking a small bone in his right (shooting) wrist in October. He did not require surgery, but it set him back about four weeks. Bartley began practicing two weeks ago on a limited basis, and was just cleared for full contact on Monday.
Hinson said earlier in the week he did not want to play Bartley Wednesday, considering the Decatur native played his first two seasons for the Billikens and Jim Crews before leaving for SIU in 2016. SIU had won two straight games and was playing a Saint Louis squad that was down to seven or eight players because of injuries or suspensions.
Bartley wanted to play, and scored 12 points in his first game since March 10, 2016. He made 2 of 3 from the field and all six of his free-throw attempts.
"I felt good," he said, after playing 23 minutes, the fifth-most of anyone on the team. "Basketball is what I love to do. It just sucks to lose."
Bartley made two clutch 3-pointers to keep the Salukis close against the Billikens (4-4), who ended a four-game losing streak, but also had a costly error in the final three minutes. Bartley's first basket, a 3-pointer in the first half, put SIU up 31-30. He hit another clutch triple with 11 seconds to go to get the Salukis within three, 72-69, but it turned out to be their final points.
Trying to make a play against Saint Louis' 1-3-1 zone north of the 3-point line, Bartley tried to split a double team. He lost the ball, which French picked up and dunked home at the other end for the Billikens' final lead of the game.
Hinson, who said Bartley would start Saturday against Southeast Missouri State, believes the taller point guard will help the Salukis battle more 2-3 and 1-3-1 defenses moving forward. SIU went more than 6:30 without a field goal in the second half, but went ahead 61-58 off Jonathan Wiley's jumper at the 5:26 mark.
The Salukis were unable to hold the lead, and fell to a squad that finished the game with six available players. Starting guard Davell Roby (eight points) and backup forward D.J. Foreman (zero points in six minutes) both fell ill or were injured during the game. Four Billikens played 33 or more minutes, including freshman guard Jordan Goodwin, who delivered a game-high 20 points and nine boards in 36.
Wiley scored a career-high 19 points, and Armon Fletcher matched Bartley's 12 points. Sean Lloyd had 11 points, center Kavion Pippen had 10 points despite battling foul trouble for the first time this season, and Aaron Cook had five points.