LAS VEGAS — Down two starters again, SIU's men's basketball team couldn't keep up with Nevada Friday night in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic.
Starting point guard Marcus Bartley couldn't play through a sore back, and center Kavion Pippen battled foul trouble in the Wolf Pack's 86-64 win at the Orleans Arena. Forward Caleb Martin, Nevada's leading scorer who came off the bench six times in the first 12 games, came off the bench with nine of his game-high 19 points during a 25-2 run that put the game away.
"We hit a wall because we lost Marcus and we lost Kavion, and I don't care who we play, we're not gonna beat a lot of people unless we can play Kavion and Marcus," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "It is what it is. Kavion is on us. He just got in foul trouble."
Pippen scored seven of the Salukis' first nine points against Nevada's lineup of four 6-foot-7 shooters and 6-4 guard Lindsey Drew. His three-point play put SIU (7-5) ahead 7-6, and Tyler Smithpeters' three free throws at the 12:09 mark made it 17-16, but the good times didn't last. Martin hit three straight triples to start the run, and SIU's upset bid went down the tubes when Pippen and Bartley were unable to help.
Bartley started and played 13 minutes in the first half but watched the second from the floor of the arena at the end of the bench. He missed all three of his field goal attempts, two from 3-point range, and finished the game with two assists and one turnover. Hinson said the team's medical staff would try to get him ready for Saturday's game against Duquesne (9-3) but that he was questionable to play.
Sean Lloyd's 12 points led SIU. Pippen and backup center Rudy Stradnieks added 11, and Aaron Cook had 10.
Martin, who went 7 of 10 from the field (5 of 6 from the 3-point line), put Nevada (11-2) up 27-17 with his third straight triple.
"Martin is a good player. I don't think he missed a shot in the first half, but, what really got them going was transition buckets," Cook said. "We let them get going in transition, and coach told us before the game it's like a jail break in transition for them, and we didn't focus in on that."
Backup forward Elijah Foster scored four points, Drew had two, and former Saluki forward Jordan Caroline scored five of his 13 points during the run that put the Wolf Pack up 41-19. SIU missed 9 of 10 shots during the run, three of them layups, and turned it over three times.
"We had that 25-4 stretch that took us out of the game, but I thought we played with 'em, and I think the biggest thing we talked about at half was 'We gotta fight,'" Hinson said. "We didn't do what we did at Louisville. Louisville, we just stopped competing. (Friday night), we didn't."
Stradnieks scored seven of his 11 in the first half, hitting all three of his attempts in nine minutes. The Wolf Pack didn't pay him the same attention as Pippen, which limited his ability to find shots for others, but the 6-9 junior who scored 69 points all last season continued to impress in his new role. Without starting forward Thik Bol, who might not be back until early to mid-January, Stradnieks played like a top-seven guy in the rotation.
"Since they switched pretty much every ball-screen, my job was to go down there and seal and work my way in the post, and that's exactly what I did," said Stradnieks, who made 4 of 6 from the field and both of his free-throw attempts. "As you saw, they go for every offensive board. Sometimes it's like they don't even want to necessarily make it, they're just going for the board, you know? They were pretty physical."
Stradnieks grabbed one rebound in 23 minutes. Tyler Smithpeters and Armon Fletcher led SIU with five. Nevada, which grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and scored 13 second-chance points, got nine boards from Cody Martin (Caleb's twin) and seven from Caroline to beat the Salukis 41-23 off the glass.
Caroline made 4 of 11 from the field, including 0 of 2 from the 3-point line, and 5 of 9 at the free-throw line against his former club. A member of the Missouri Valley Conference's All-Freshman Team in 2015, Caroline sat out the 2015-16 season and helped the Wolf Pack to the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Friday night snapped a three-game streak where he scored 20 or more points.
The win gave the Mountain West a 7-6 lead against teams from the MVC this season. The two teams split their challenge series, 5-5, with SIU contributing a home win over San Jose State. After falling at Saint Louis Dec. 6, the Salukis will try to improve the Valley's 0-2 record against Atlantic 10 teams when they take on the Dukes in their final non-conference game.
"It's adversity. This is a tournament, and there's no feeling sorry for ourselves," Stradnieks said. "There's no backing off. We need to go in 100 percent, because we're going into the break after, so we need to lay our bodies out. Play with all our hearts (Saturday)."