CARBONDALE — When Evansville put a guard in front of Kavion Pippen near the top of the key Saturday to take away the ball-screen, SIU's men's basketball team took turns throwing the ball from the corner to the wing.
That was all Barry Hinson had to see to know his team needed a break.
"When you focus on defense and rebounding, you take the pressure off to score," said Hinson, who will set a Missouri Valley Conference record when he leads the Salukis into his 15th conference tournament in St. Louis Friday. "Instead of guys coming up to the plate trying to hit a home run every time the ball is in their hands, if they would just get to the point where they trust each other like we have all year long, and make sure that we move the ball, and we play unselfish, I think you'll see our offensive numbers will go way up."
The Salukis (19-12) earned a little extra time off with the second seed at the MVC Tournament, but are faced with recapturing the toughness that helped them win eight of 10 games decided by five points or less. SIU scored 56 points against Loyola, and gave up 75. Evansville led the Salukis by 19 points at the half Saturday and put up 75 points.
SIU went 14-1 when holding its opponent to under 70 points this season.
"When we make our minds up and hold teams to 40 percent or below, and that's our thing," said SIU guard/forward Armon Fletcher, a second team all-conference pick. "We try to hold teams to 39.9 (field goal percentage) and we've been undefeated throughout the year doing that. It's just our niche right now. We're just trying to take each game as it is, and trying to get better."
Fletcher, a 6-foot-5 junior, led the Salukis at 14.2 points per game. He has played some of his best against his two potential opponents Friday night, scoring a career-high 32 points against Valparaiso and sinking the game-winning basket at Missouri State with six seconds left Jan. 27.
Pippen, a third team all-conference pick that also made the MVC's All-Newcomer Team, averaged 12.3 points and a team-best 5.8 rebounds a game. The junior center, SIU's biggest inside scoring threat, put up 10 points or more in eight of his last 10 games.
The Salukis have won at least one game at the MVC Tournament in three of the last four years, and reached the semifinals in 2014. In a year of attrition — SIU hasn't played with its best player, forward Thik Bol, all year, and has lost 19 games to injuries — Fletcher believes there is more in store for this squad.
"I feel like we haven't played our best yet, and we have time to show people that we haven't," he said.