CARBONDALE — Northern Iowa forward Bennett Koch made Kavion Pippen work both sides of the lane for the basketball on Thursday night, but once SIU's 6-foot-10 center got it, the battle was over at the McLeod Center.
Pippen missed two of his first three shots in his Missouri Valley Conference debut, tripping two 10-12-foot jumpers off the side of the rim. When the junior put all of his focus in the paint, he dropped three straight to end the first half and scored a game-high 14 points in SIU's historic 56-53 victory.
"Definitely had to work," Pippen said after hitting 6 of 12 from the field for his fourth straight game in double figures. "(Koch)'s a good defender. He's long, so, it's just catching it and trying to finish it over the top of him."
Pippen added two free throws on four attempts, five rebounds, and assist and a block in 31 minutes. Koch, a 6-10 preseason all-conference senior forward, missed two bunnies early and was frustrated by SIU's collapsing defense inside all night. He made just 2 of 8 from the field, turned it over four times, and scored just five points in 22 minutes.
"We lost too many individual battles with (Pippen)," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. "They did a better job of crowding (Koch) than we did. We let him get comfortable and turn to that left shoulder, and it was too easy for him."
SIU (9-5, 1-0 MVC) won for the first time ever at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which opened in 2007. It was the Salukis' first win in Cedar Falls since Jan. 22, 2003, when Bruce Weber led his club to an 88-78 win in overtime.
SIU finished 24-7 overall and 16-2 in the Valley (first place) that season. The win at Northern Iowa was the first of seven straight victories in 2002-03. The Salukis lost to Creighton in the MVC Tournament championship and lost to Missouri, 72-71, in the NCAA Tournament.
SIU will try to move to 2-0 in the Valley for the first time since 2015-16 when it hosts Drake (7-7, 1-0) on Sunday at 3 p.m. The Bulldogs upset Bradley, 66-64, in Des Moines on Thursday night.
SIU is expected to get preseason all-conference forward Thik Bol back for the first time this season on Sunday. Hinson said after Thursday night's game Bol was cleared to practice Friday, and could play against the Bulldogs after missing the first 14 games of the season after undergoing knee surgery in November. Bol, a 6-8, 202-pound senior, is the Salukis' top returning rebounder from last season (6.8 per game) and was the team's fourth-leading scorer at 9.1 points per game.
Bol also blocked 76 shots in 33 starts, the third-most in a single season in school history. Pippen's 26 blocks in 14 starts are the second-most of anyone in the Valley, behind Missouri State forward Obediah Church's 27.