If I gave A-pluses, SIU would get an A-plus after winning a road game against incredible odds Friday night. Moments after the Eagles unveiled their NCAA Tournament banner from 2017, the Salukis earned their first lead of the 2017-18 season off Kavion Pippen's fifth and sixth points of the game. Pippen scored 15 points in his first Division I game, and might have had 20 if the Salukis were able to get him he basketball more. SIU finally looked like makers rather than shooters, sinking 7 of 17 from behind the 3-point line and 52.5 percent from the field (32 of 61). All 10 players that got in, even Austin Weiher, who gave SIU's bigs some rest late in the first half, played a part.
SIU coach Barry Hinson did not want to try a zone against the Eagles, who set a school record with over 300 3-pointers last season and returned three of their main players. The Salukis' big guards made a big impact, deflecting passes, and turning 15 turnovers into 18 points. Eric McGill, who had 85 steals last season at Panola (Texas) College, scored six points in 69 seconds to turn a 12-point game into an 18-point contest. The Salukis dominated the boards, outrebounding Winthrop 42-27.
Down two starters, and a third playing on one good knee, SIU led for more than 35 minutes and beat a good Winthrop team against some big odds. Yes, the Eagles were without their all-time leading scorer, Keon Johnson, who graduated, but the Salukis played without all-everything forward Sean O'Brien for the first time since 2013, too. Sean Lloyd was in Top Dawg form, scoring 15 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and adding four assists and four steals in 34 minutes. Armon Fletcher toughed out 29 minutes with his right knee wrapped up, and delivered 14 big points and five boards. Jonathan Wiley helped SIU shut down Winthrop forward Xavier Cooks, who scored six of his 14 points at the free-throw line and turned it over seven times, and the Salukis' defense carried the day.