CARBONDALE — Eric McGill had an open look at a 3-point shot from the right wing midway through the second half against San Jose State. Right before he rose up, he found an easier offensive option.
McGill fired inside to 6-foot-10 SIU center Kavion Pippen, who, with 6-11 center Oumar Barry on his back, took one dribble and finished for a 17-point cushion. A covered Pippen was a better opportunity than an open 3-pointer for one of the Salukis' best shooters on Saturday. Pippen made 9 of 10 from the field, all four of his free-throw attempts, and scored a season-high 22 points to lead SIU past the Spartans 76-58 at SIU Arena.
"I think I finished pretty well. My teammates got me involved pretty good," Pippen said after scoring in double figures for the sixth time in as many tries. "Coaches wanted me to be aggressive tonight, so I tried to go out and do that."
Pippen's only miss in 34 minutes was a hook shot off the front of the rim in the second half. San Jose State (2-5) double teamed him early, but after SIU (4-2) made a few perimeter jumpers in the second half, the Spartans tried to pay a bit more attention there. After scoring 10 points in the first half, Pippen got 12 in the second against one of the tallest frontlines he'll play all season.
Barry weighed 230 pounds, starting forward Keith Fisher III stood 6-8, and backup center Ashtin Chastain was 6-11, 245. Before SIU outrebounded San Jose State 30-28, and matched its nine offensive boards, the Spartans hadn't been outboarded all season.
"I thought in the beginning, we caught him off-guard, and then they run certain things," San Jose State coach Jean Prioleau said. "They form strong-side triangles. And when you do that on a big/big trap, it hurts the defense a little bit, and they were able to run some of their offense and they were able to get the shots that they wanted, for sure in the second half. In the first half I thought we did a pretty good job."
Up nine at the break, the Salukis started the second half with Sean Lloyd's only 3-pointer of the game. Barry answered, but Jonathan Wiley, playing with a sprained left thumb, followed with a baseline jumper to put SIU back up 12 with 19:14 to play. Pippen then kicked off a 14-7 run with a layup off a Lloyd pass.
San Jose State had only four field goals in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, and went down as much as 28 before it was over. Leading scorer Ryan Welage, who entered the game averaging 20.2 points per game, was the only Spartan starter in double figures with 10 points. Welage, a 6-9 forward who was 10 of 18 from the 3-point line in his first six games, didn't attempt one behind the arc in 30 minutes.
Barry was 4 of 4 from the field and made both of his free-throw attempts, but finished with nine points and three turnovers. The Spartans gave away 20 possessions, 10 in each half, and dropped their fifth game in their last six. Backup guard Jaycee Hillsman led San Jose State with 15 points.
The Spartans scored nearly half their points at the free-throw line, sinking 19 of 27. SIU didn't attempt a free throw in the first half and finished 12 of 13 at the line.
Armon Fletcher scored 15 and had a team-high six rebounds for SIU. Aaron Cook added 12 points and three of the Salukis' 15 assists, and Wiley had 10 and two of their six blocks.
Pippen played so well, SIU coach Barry Hinson said he couldn't even complain about how his leading rebounder only got one in 34 minutes.
"At halftime, we asked him 'Make a quicker move. The doubles are coming later now. Make a quicker move,' and I think that's the best thing about him right now. He's doing everything that we ask him to do," Hinson said. "He is a sponge. He's learning. He's getting better. I'm telling you, guys, he's got a chance to be a special player."