CARBONDALE — Missouri State can only play five guys at a time today, which is good news for SIU's men's basketball team.
The Salukis (13-9, 5-4 Missouri Valley Conference) have won their last two games with collective efforts from their eight main players. Junior forward Austin Weiher was the only healthy scratch in Wednesday night's 82-77 win over Indiana State at SIU Arena. Sophomore guard Aaron Cook scored a career-high 25 points, junior guard Armon Fletcher added 17, and all eight players scored to help SIU move into a four-way tie for third place in the Valley heading into the second half of conference play.
"In every game we've lost this year, it's been because we've been selfish on the perimeter, and I think the guys are starting to figure out, when we're not selfish, that we can be a pretty good offensive team," SIU coach Barry Hinson said.
The Salukis had 16 assists on 26 baskets against Indiana State, with five from starting point guard Marcus Bartley and four each from Cook and Fletcher. Bartley's third assist of the first half, a flip to backup guard Tyler Smithpeters near the top of the key, set up his only 3-pointer of the game.
Smithpeters' shot with about eight seconds to go in the half put the Salukis up 12 at the break. They never trailed in the second half.
Cook's best play of the night was a dump-down to Fletcher underneath the basket in the final minute. Fletcher laid it up and was fouled to stretch SIU's lead to four with 33 seconds to go. The Salukis made five of their last six free-throw attempts to seal their first back-to-back wins since late December.
"That's something we really focused on in practice. Whenever we win a game, we come out sluggish the next game," Cook said. "So, our emphasis was to come out with energy, keep playing hard, and play together. I think we did a really good job of that (Wednesday night)."
Backup forward Rudy Stradnieks scored four points off the bench after not scoring at all the previous two games. Redshirt freshman guard Brendon Gooch, who had scored fours points, total, in conference play before Wednesday, added a 3-pointer in the first half. SIU will need all it can get from them today when it takes on MVC favorite Missouri State ( 15-7, 5-4) at JQH Arena.
The Bears will be without forwards Reggie Scurry and Abdul Fofana, who coach Paul Lusk said could miss weeks after developing blisters during a cryotherapy session earlier this week, but still feature the strongest bench in the league. Missouri State's reserves have scored 20 or more points 14 times this season, and more than 30 six times.
The Bears are reeling after back-to-back road losses at Drake and Bradley. Jarrid Rhodes and Ronnie Rousseau III scored 10 points each in Tuesday's 72-52 loss at Bradley. Forward Alize Johnson, the preseason player of the year and the Valley's top rebounder at 11.5 per game, had five boards and seven points against the Braves. Johnson went 0 of 9 from the field at Drake and finished with two points.
"A week ago we felt pretty good about where we're at. Things have changed," Lusk said at a Friday press conference. "I just think that's gonna be the season. There are no easy games."