ROCK HILL, S.C. — Moments after Indiana State knocked off Indiana by 21 points on the road, SIU's men's basketball team finished off a victory just as shocking at Winthrop Coliseum.
Down two starters and with another one injured, the Salukis put on a defensive effort worthy of the Floorburn U. days of the early-to-late 2000s in a short-handed, 81-66 victory over Winthrop Friday night. SIU turned 15 Eagle turnovers into 18 points and limited the defending Big South Conference tournament champions to 40.7 percent shooting. Winthrop made just 7 of 23 from the field in the second half (30.4 percent) and trailed for more than 35 minutes against a team with eight healthy players.
"First game of the season is always a statement, especially on the road," SIU guard Sean Lloyd said after the win.
Lloyd scored 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and added four assists and four steals for the Salukis (1-0). His 3-pointer with 9:17 to go stretched SIU's lead back to double digits after the Eagles (0-1) pulled to within nine. Kavion Pippen, who delivered a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds in his first official Division I game, pushed the lead to 13 with one of his five free throws on six attempts.
The Salukis led by as much as 22 points in the second half without starting forward Thik Bol (knee injury), starting point guard Marcus Bartley (broken bone in wrist) and Armon Fletcher playing 29 minutes three days after dislocating his right knee in practice.
"Thirty-five percent shooting and 25 points in the second half from a team that played in the NCAA Tournament last year and won a conference championship, so we were proud of what we did, defensively," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "I wasn't happy with how we finished the game, and I wasn't happy with our turnovers, but everything that's gone on in our program in the last two weeks, we're kind of excited about it."
Junior forward Austin Weiher, who just started practicing this week after having offseason surgery on his foot, played one minute. Starting forward Jonathan Wiley fouled out, and Lloyd and forward Rudy Stradnieks finished the game with four fouls. Pippen, Fletcher and Tyler Smithpeters finished the game with three fouls, but the Salukis overcame 18 turnovers and a late 11-3 run by Winthrop to close out the victory.
Eagles forward Xavier Cooks, a preseason all-conference player in the Big South, was Winthrop's only player in double figures with 14 points. The 6-8 senior scored six of them at the free-throw line, made 4 of 10 from the field, and turned it over seven times, one off his career-worst.
"I felt like we frustrated him," Hinson said. "He scored most of his points off the free-throw line, but he was certainly a focal point. I thought in the first half the way it looked like to me, he had 20, because he was always at the free-throw line."
Winthrop, which set a school-record with 313 3-pointers last season, missed 12 of 16 behind the arc and never got going in the second half. SIU never went zone, and elected to play straight up man-to-man in order to use its new defensive length. Eleven of the Eagles' 15 turnovers came off Saluki steals, including two straight by Eric McGill that led to runouts.
"They got out in passing lanes," Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said. "They tried to disrupt us a little bit, and I felt like, because of that, the way we played stagnant was we played a little bit too much 1-on-1. They made our ball-reversal tough, and they forced us to play a bit too much 1-on-1."
In addition to the injuries, SIU's flight from St. Louis into Charlotte Thursday was delayed for more than five hours, eliminating their chance to practice. No matter. Fletcher scored 14 points on 6 of 11 shooting, McGill added 12, and Tyler Smithpeters scored nine.
"We play hard. We play tough," McGill said. "I'm proud of us."