Tyler Smithpeters heard the pop right after he jab-stepped at a Wright State guard going down the lane.

The senior guard's knee stuck a bit on the SIU Arena floor, and he went down just seven minutes into the 2016-17 season.

"I tried to bluff at one of the guys driving to the lane, slipped, my knee got caught, and it popped," Smithpeters said.

Smithpeters suffered a partially torn medial collateral ligament (MCL), but didn't require surgery. He actually tried to practice late in the year in the hopes of returning, but his knee swelled up after almost every workout. He ended up winning a medical redshirt.

On Friday night, 364 days after the injury, the new-and-improved Smithpeters will open his second senior season at Winthrop.

"I really found a new respect for the game, just knowing that any time, that could be your last game," Smithpeters said. "I think that's the biggest thing, so, just being there for my teammates. Just cheering them on any way I could."

There were a lot of ups and downs during SIU's 17-16 campaign.

With Thik Bol and Sean O'Brien, the Salukis had a dynamic frontcourt, but finished last in the Missouri Valley Conference in 3-point shooting. SIU went 2 of 17 behind the arc in a 12-point loss at Minnesota. a game that was there for the taking (Reggie Lynch didn't play). An abysmal 2-of-26 3-point shooting performance doomed the Salukis in a nine-point road loss to Bradley in the first league game of the season.

SIU's 31.6 percent from behind the arc was the worst since 2011-12, when the Salukis set the school record for losses (23) and won only eight games.

Smithpeters will tie former Saluki guard and current Missouri State coach Paul Lusk for 20th in school history in career 3s with his next triple. A career 39.5 percent shooter behind the arc, he will finish fifth in school history if he can keep it there in his final season.

Twenty-eight pounds heavier than he was as a sophomore, and even an inch taller, Smithpeters could be a big part in SIU's chase for its first postseason berth in 10 years. And, yes, that really was the 23-year-old Smithpeters that went up and dunked it Saturday night.

"As much as we would have liked to have had Tyler on the floor last year, quite frankly, that's probably the best thing to ever happen to him," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "His body's changed. He'll be able to tell you. I think Tyler's up 22 pounds from when he arrived here. He's a lot stronger. Obviously, his knee is a lot stronger. Tyler's not a dunker, he's a shooter, but you can see his shooting and his quickness has gotten a lot better.

"I anticipate he'll have a really good year."

TODD HEFFERMAN covers SIU athletics for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com, 618-351-5087 or on Twitter at @THefferman.

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Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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