Aaron Cook has earned the right to play 15-25 minutes a game, even after Marcus Bartley returns for SIU's men's basketball team.

Challenged to be a defensive player first, Cook has turned into an attacking, smart, offensive option for the Salukis (4-2) in Bartley's absence. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound sophomore was already one of SIU's best defenders, with 31 steals in 32 games as a true freshman last season. After working on his jump shot in the offseason, Cook added 10 pounds to help him finish better in traffic, and put up 12 points in Saturday's win over San Jose State.

Cook broke into double figures only three times last season, when he averaged just over 10 minutes a game. This year, as the starter, he put up a career-high 20 points against Division II Illinois-Springfield and proved it wasn't a fluke. Cook didn't score at Louisville — who did? — and has scored 10 or more in three straight games.

SIU has won two straight games, is getting good looks on the perimeter, and has the third-best 3-point defense in the Missouri Valley Conference. When Bartley, a 6-5 junior who some say is the Salukis' best player, returns, it will only add to the team's strength at the point.

Cook could make a great shooting guard. After going 5 of 11 from the field, and 2 of 4 from the 3-point line Saturday, he already has more triples than he did all last season. His 47.1-percent shooting behind the arc is the best on the team, and he has three or more rebounds in four games this year.

* Two MVFC teams left in FCS playoffs: Second seed North Dakota State and fifth seed South Dakota State continue their march to the FCS title game this weekend in the FCS quarterfinals.

The Bison (11-1), who won the Missouri Valley Football Conference's automatic bid to the postseason, hosts No. 7 seed Wofford (10-2) Saturday at 11 a.m. The game is scheduled to air on ESPN2.

The winner of that game will play either Kennesaw State or Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinals.

South Dakota State (10-2) hosts New Hampshire (9-4) Saturday at 2 p.m. on ESPN3. The winner of that game will meet either No. 1 seed James Madison or Weber State in the semifinals.

* LaRue SIU's new baseball assistant: With Ryan Strain leaving to go back to Colorado, SIU baseball coach Ken Henderson has promoted former volunteer assistant coach Seth LaRue to full-time assistant this season.

LaRue will be the Salukis' hitting coach this season. He played two years at Olney Central College and his final two seasons at Campbell, leading the Fighting Camels to 73 wins and their first NCAA Tournament appearance. He coached at Campbell in 2016 before coming to Carbondale last year. 

TODD HEFFERMAN covers SIU athletics for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com, 618-351-587 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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