CARBONDALE — SIU's men's basketball team won nine of its first 15 games without preseason all-conference forward Thik Bol, starting point guard Marcus Bartley for a bit, and even without Armon Fletcher and Rudy Stradnieks.
Bol was declared out for the remainder of the season on Sunday after his injured left knee flared up worse than team medical personnel envisioned. Bartley broke a bone in his right (shooting) wrist before the season, Fletcher (knee) and Stradnieks (hand) missed games with injuries they've overcome. Stradnieks, SIU's backup center, is expected back tonight when the Salukis (9-6, 1-1 Missouri Valley Conference) take on Evansville (10-5, 0-2).
Backup forward Jonathan Wiley, who hyperextended his knee against Drake, could miss two weeks, SIU coach Barry Hinson said on Tuesday, but also could try to fight through it. Wiley was scheduled to meet with SIU's team doctor Tuesday afternoon.
It is yet to be determined if SIU will be the team that struggled against Drake for 36 minutes in a three-point loss on Sunday, or the one that came inches from sending the game to overtime with a furious rally in the final four.
"We're all right," SIU senior guard Tyler Smithpeters said. "We just got outplayed by Drake. We didn't come in ready for the game, so, really, we've just gotta go into the next game with the same mindset as we did at Northern Iowa. To go in there, play as hard as we can, and get a win."
The Salukis trailed 67-54 after Drake's Reed Timmer hit two free throws with 4:06 to go. Several fans headed for the exit, and missed a rally that came down to the final shot. Fletcher, who scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds battling flu-like symptoms, started an 8-0 run with a 3-pointer. Bartley added another, and after Aaron Cook stole the ball from forward Nick McGlynn and dunked it at the other end, the lead shrunk to five with 88 seconds left.
De'Antae McMurray hit two free throws to seemingly put the game out of reach with 1:21 to go, but the Salukis got a jumper from Sean Lloyd, a steal by Bartley, and a Cook 3-pointer to make it interesting. Fletcher's 3 from the right side in the final minute would have given SIU the lead, but it bounced off the side of the rim. His potentially-tying shot from about 23 feet from the top of the key hit the window on the backboard but rimmed out at the horn.
SIU learned another hard lesson about playing 40 minutes, and knows it won't get much sympathy from the Purple Aces. Evansville, winless in the league after close losses at home to Illinois State and at Loyola, has dropped three straight games. After missing leading scorers Ryan Taylor and Dru Smith for seven games and four games, respectively, the Aces are back to full strength and have won four straight games at SIU Arena.
Taylor, a 6-foot-6, 195-pound guard, would be the Valley's top scorer if he'd played in enough games (league stats require players to compete in at least 75 percent of their team's games). Taylor made 8 of 16 from the field and scored 20 points in Evansville's 66-59 loss at Loyola Saturday, and is averaging 21.3 points per game in eight starts.
Hinson said the right mindset could go a long way to getting back on the winning track. SIU plays three of its next four games on the road after tonight's game.
"The thing that bothered me the other night was we let our offense, once again, dictate how we played at the defensive end, and we also let bad news dictate how we came out with energy," Hinson said. "We gotta be beyond it. We gotta be beyond it. Nobody cares. The people in this area and this region care, but nobody out of this region cares. As a matter of fact, I told 'em today 'There's nine teams that hope every one of ya are sick.'"