CARBONDALE — Starting guards Marcus Bartley, Aaron Cook, Sean Lloyd and Armon Fletcher have been the catalysts for SIU's three-game winning streak, but also the chief philanthropists for the easiest points the team has allowed this season.
Bartley and Cook, the Salukis' two points guards, combined for half of SIU's 10 turnovers in Saturday's win at Missouri State. The Bears turned those 10 turnovers into 16 points in their 79-77 loss. At Drake tonight, SIU can't afford to give away easy baskets against the top-scoring team in the Missouri Valley Conference.
"Our assists are the best they've been in the six years since I've been here, and we're not turning the ball over, but when we do, they turn into baskets," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "That's what I'm really disappointed about."
SIU (14-9, 6-4 MVC) allowed 16 points, total, off turnovers in wins over Northern Iowa and Indiana State last week. The Salukis played six of their seven guys against Missouri State 29 minutes or more, five of them guards, but might have enough to earn a split of their regular-season series against the Bulldogs (12-11, 6-4).
Drake has dropped three of its last four games to fall into a three-way tie for second place in the Valley with SIU and Bradley heading into the final eight. The Bulldogs got five players into double figures at Evansville Saturday, and turned 20 Purple Ace turnovers into 18 points, but fell 77-73.
Drake is 8-1 at home and beat SIU 70-67 earlier this season in one of the wildest games of the season for the Salukis.
The Bulldogs led 65-52 with 4:50 to go at SIU Arena on Dec. 31, but had to survive a Fletcher 3-point attempt at the buzzer to escape with the victory. Lloyd's jumper with 1:09 to play pulled the Salukis within five, and after a De'Antae McMurray turnover, Cook hit a 3 to pull his team within two. Fletcher then blocked Graham Woodward's driving layup, and had a shot for the lead that banged off the rim. Fletcher's last-second 3 from the top of the key that would have tied the game hit off the window and the right side of the rim.
SIU lost forward Jonathan Wiley for the season during that game, and was playing less than eight hours after learning forward Thik Bol was not going to play this season because of an injured knee. Bol had sat out the previous 14 games, had started practicing for the first time all season the previous week, and had been cleared to go two days prior. Saluki players and Hinson both said the news was tough to stow away for 40 minutes and impacted their effort.
Today, SIU will enter the Knapp Center after one of its biggest wins of the season, looking for its first four-game winning streak of the season. And maybe a little payback.
Drake coach Niko Medved knows the stakes.
"You look at their roster, and, yeah, they're playing seven guys, essentially, sometimes eight, but those guys are good," Medved said. "They've got good players. They're long, they're athletic, they're physical. They've got really good chemistry. You can just see it on both ends of the floor, and they're playing really well together."