SIU's men's basketball game at Bradley Tuesday night features two of the Missouri Valley Conference's best newcomers.
Center Kavion Pippen, the Salukis' third-leading scorer at 11.7 points per game and their second-leading rebounder (5.2 per game), is a junior college transfer that was thrust into the starting role with the injury to Thik Bol. Bradley's Elijah Childs, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound freshman forward, has had a bit longer learning curve.
Childs started three games this season and has stepped it up in Valley play. He made 5 of 7 from the field and had three blocks to go with his 10 points in Bradley's surprising loss at Evansville, 68-44. He's expected to come off the bench behind 6-11 sophomore center Koch Bar, but has made a big impact on the Braves' improved defense.
"He helps us be a good defensive team with his length, his anticipation, his shotblocking ability, and he's developing more and more as a scorer, I think, inside for us and in the post," Bradley coach Brian Wardle said. "He's shown some flashes of carrying over what we've been working on, so, he's a good young player. There's still a lot he can improve on, but he's definitely been a key part of our season."
Childs' 24 blocks lead the Braves (12-5, 2-2 MVC), who can match last season's win total with a victory over the Salukis (10-7, 2-2) at Carver Arena in Peoria. In Valley play, the forward is 16 of 29 from the field with 19 rebounds.
Pippen was one of SIU's best players early in the season, but has struggled in Valley play as more and more teams try to physically push him away from the rim. A 53.9 percent shooter this season, the 6-10 junior college transfer is 20 of 47 from the field in four Valley games. He went 7 of 15 from the field in Saturday's loss at Valparaiso, including 4 of 10 in the second half.
SIU fell to 0-7 when allowing 70 or more points this season. The Salukis are 10-0 when holding teams to 69 or less.
Scouting the Bradley Braves (12-5, 2-2 MVC)
Coach: Brian Wardle (30-52 at BU, 125-117 overall)
Leading scorers: G Darrell Brown 13.4 ppg., F Donte Thomas 9.3 ppg., G Nate Kennell 9.2 ppg.
Leading rebounders: F Donte Thomas 6.3 rpg., F Elijah Childs 5.9 rpg., G Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye 5.1 rpg.
Notes: Six players average between 6-13 points per game. ... Five Braves shoot 40 percent or better from the 3-point line. Kennell (32 of 83) and Brown (25 of 62) are Bradley's top 3-point shooters. ... Bradley is 5-6 when it has less assists than turnovers. The Braves have turned it over 261 times and have 237 assists. ... After his 32-point outing at Valparaiso, guard/forward Armon Fletcher moved into SIU's scoring lead at 14.1 points per game. Fletcher is shooting 53.3 percent from the field in Valley play (24 of 45), including 40 percent from 3 (6 of 15), and is 14 of 17 at the free-throw line (82.4 percent).