The SIU men's basketball team returns home this week for two games before heading to St. Louis for a Dec. 6 date with the Billikens of Saint Louis University.
The Salukis (2-2) host sister school SIU-Edwardsville (1-4) Wednesday night and San Jose State (2-3) Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. Before we get into those games, here are three things we learned from Saturday's 81-73 loss at Murray State:
No. 1 — It's tough to guard 24-foot jumpshooters
Jonathan Stark lived up to the hype of being the Ohio Valley Conference's preseason player of the year, scoring 27 points on 16 field goal attempts. The 6-foot senior guard had only four free-throw attempts in his first three games, but shot 83 percent at the stripe last season, so the Salukis had to respect his driving ability.
They quickly learned they also had to respect his range after he launched two 24-foot 3-pointers that hit nothing but the bottom of the net at the CFSB Center in Murray, Kentucky. Stark went 5 of 10 behind the arc for the game and 8 of 16 from the field.
Even with a defender reaching toward him, Stark was clutch for the Racers.
No. 2 — SIU's Emergency Eight comes back well
The Louisville loss was disappointing on a lot of levels, but the worst part was how SIU appeared to quit in the final 10 minutes.
Down to eight players for at least the next week — starting point guard Marcus Bartley may start practicing this week, but is probably a few days from being what he was in October — the Salukis rebounded well Saturday. Against a good Murray State squad, SIU led by six at the break, and if it got a bit more from Armon Fletcher or its bench, may have won for the third time.
Fletcher went 3 of 13 from the field in 24 minutes, including 1 of 7 from the 3-point line, but moved well. Nursing a dislocated right knee, Fletcher had two rebounds and an assist. The bench actually outscored Murray State's 21-14, but might have had more.
All things considered, the Racers loss probably doesn't happen with Bartley or Thik Bol on the floor for SIU, but at best we all thought SIU would be 3-1 at this point. At 2-2, the Salukis have seven winnable games in a row before going to Las Vegas to face Nevada. Bartley's return this weekend or next week (fingers crossed) could be a big boost.
"We responded well. I told our guys tonight 'Hey, you responded tonight. You answered the bell,'" SIU coach Barry Hinson said after the game. "I think when we get a full squad, when we get these two starters back, I think we've got a chance to be pretty good."
No. 3 — SIU takes too many 3-pointers
For a team that struggles to score, at times, the 3-point shot has not been good to the Salukis just yet. After going 7 of 21 behind the arc Saturday, SIU is 24 of 80 for the season (30 percent).
With a center like Kavion Pippen, who converted 6 of 8 from the field and scored 12 points in 31 minutes, SIU needs to build its offense around him a bit more. Pippen, SIU's top scorer at 12 points per game, is also averaging 6.5 rebounds a game, second-best on the team behind Jonathan Wiley's 6.8 per game.
Pippen also goes toward the basket. He never fades away, or shies away from contact, which increases his chances of grabbing an offensive rebound. He's also a pretty good free-throw shooter (66.7 percent through four games) and has converted 21 of 40 from the field (52.5 percent). Pippen has missed some bunnies, but always seems to know where he is in relation to the rim when he gets the basketball.
The Salukis have missed him too many times. Even if he doesn't shoot it, Pippen has to touch the ball more than he has.