CARBONDALE — The five-and-a-half-hour bus ride back from Valparaiso is over, sophomore guard Aaron Cook is feeling better, and the team meeting concluded Sunday for SIU's men's basketball team.
All that's left for the Salukis (10-7, 2-2 Missouri Valley Conference) today is to put Saturday's 11-point debacle behind them and focus on becoming the first team this season to trip up Bradley (12-5, 2-2) at Carver Arena. SIU takes on the Braves and their 8-0 record at home at 7 p.m.
Saluki coach Barry Hinson expects Cook, the team's fourth-leading scorer, to make the trip after he played through flu-like symptoms in the 83-72 loss at Valparaiso. Whether SIU's defense travels with him is anyone's guess, Hinson said. The Salukis are 4-2 after a loss this season, and have struggled to find their new identity after losing 35 games to various injuries. Forwards Thik Bol and Jonathan Wiley, and guard Eric McGill, are out for the season.
"We can't let it affect the effort and the fight, and that's what really bothered me when we went to play at Valpo," Hinson said. "Our next challenge is big. We're going to go into Bradley right now with eight guys, and we're just gonna have to fight our tails off."
SIU led the Crusaders 27-20 with 7:52 to go in the first half, but trailed 43-29 at the half. Valparaiso hit seven straight shots in the second half at one point, and never let the lead slip under double digits. Saluki guard Armon Fletcher scored a career-high 32 points and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds in the loss.
SIU fell to 0-7 this season when allowing 70 or more points, and faces a Bradley squad coming off its worst loss of the season. The Braves shot 34.9 percent from the field in Saturday's 68-44 loss at Evansville, including 30 percent in the second half.
The Purple Aces had 23 assists on 25 buckets and shot 49 percent from the field against the Valley's second-best scoring defense. Bradley is allowing 61.8 points per game, second only to Northern Iowa (60.8), through 17 games. Only one team in league play has cracked 70 so far, Valparaiso, which lost 80-71 at Carver Arena in Peoria Jan. 3.
SIU hopes to keep the balanced Braves to 69 or under. Point guard Darrell Brown (13.4 points per game) is the only Bradley player that averages double figures, but five others average between 6-9.3 points per game. Elijah Childs, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound freshman from Kansas City, Missouri, averages 8.1 points and 5.9 rebounds a game. His 24 blocks lead the team.
Childs (21) is one of seven players, however, with more than 20 turnovers, which has been the Braves' chief road block to a better start.
"Probably three-fourths of our turnovers are our guys pressing a little bit, trying to make a play when there wasn't an opportunity to make a play, so, recognizing those situations and just making the simple play, and that's moving the ball, reversing the ball," Bradley coach Brian Wardle said. "When we play with good pace, and the ball's poppin', we score. And we can score in bunches, but when the ball sticks, and we try to do a little too much, and sometimes, with our group, when we're down, we press too much and try to make plays."