SIU's men's basketball team built a 12-point lead at the half Wednesday night against Indiana State and didn't let things get tight until the final minute.
Aaron Cook, who scored a career-high 25 points to go with four assists and two steals, made one of the biggest plays of SIU's 82-77 win by getting rid of the basketball. His pass to Armon Fletcher, who had back-doored his defender, led to a bucket that pushed the Salukis' lead to four points in the final minute. SIU then made five of its last six free-throw attempts in the last 21 seconds to seal the win.
Here are three more things we learned from the Salukis' win over Indiana State:
No. 1 — Cook's success = Salukis' success
Cook's previous career-high of 20 points came against Division II Illinois-Springfield in November, in a game SIU needed them. Fletcher didn't play after dislocating his knee, and the Salukis won 69-64.
Wednesday was Cook's 13th game with 10 or more points. SIU improved to 8-5 with his added offense.
CARBONDALE — Aaron Cook had 24 points and the ball in the final minute, nursing a two-point …
"We let him get too comfortable," Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. "He's worked hard, and he's become a much better shooter. He hit a couple early (Wednesday), and the biggest thing was him getting a full head of steam off those ball-screens."
No. 2 — Salukis executed well in crunch time
Before Fletcher snuck in front of his defender and set up underneath the basket in the final minute, SIU executed two half-court sets to perfection to end the first half.
SIU coach Barry Hinson called timeout with 58.5 seconds to go and a 35-29 lead. Fletcher got a clean look at the basket on the left side of the arc and nailed the 3, only his second field goal of the game at that point, off Tyler Smithpeters' pass. After Qiydar Davis missed a jumper, SIU got another shot with about 40 seconds left, and made the most of it.
The Salukis worked it around the perimeter and set up Smithpeters at the top of the key. The fifth-year senior appeared to lean a bit to the right, but nailed it with about eight seconds to go. Hinson said after the game the team was supposed to run the set with about 10 seconds to go instead of shoot at that time, but, what are you gonna do?
Indiana State wasn't able to get a good look at the bucket in the final seconds and went down 12 at the break.
Say what you will about Hinson's recruiting, his retention, or his record, but, for the most part, when SIU needs a bucket, it almost always gets the look he wants. The Salukis may not always make the shot, but they normally get the shot they want off of set plays.
No. 3 — Rebounding must improve
SIU's guards must rebound, and Wednesday was an effort that must be improved this weekend.
Indiana State outboarded the Salukis 37-31, but, more importantly, turned 13 offensive boards into 12 points. SIU got zero second-chance points Wednesday night. The Salukis must do one or the other.
Either score off their own second-chance points, or a do a better job of limiting their opponents' chances. Missouri State averages 7.3 more rebounds than its opponents this season and features the top player, and rebounder, in the Valley in forward Alize Johnson (11.5 per game). SIU's top rebounder is center Kavion Pippen (5.8 per game), and he will need some help Saturday.