CARBONDALE – Looking for a silver lining after a victory? That’s a clear indication the game was a struggle.
The Southern Illinois University basketball team improved its record to 2-0 with a 69-64 win over the University of Illinois-Springfield, a Division II team. The Salukis actually found themselves trailing, 58-57, with 3:14 left in the game.
The Salukis were without three potential starters. Guard Marcus Bartley is out with a wrist injury. Thik Bol is on the shelf following knee surgery and Armon Fletcher was kept out of the game to rest a balky knee.
“I don’t care who you play, I don’t care who your opponent is, you take three starters out of the lineup, you have to play really, really special basketball to win,” said SIU coach Barry Hinson. “I don’t care who it is. That was hard on us tonight. I’m going to look at it as a positive. As a matter of fact, I think it’s a very good positive. I think them taking the lead late in the game where we had to come back, where we had to make a big play.”
There is no disputing the last sentence in Hinson’s statement.
The Salukis let the Prairie Stars hang around throughout the game. Then, with 3:14 remaining, Eddie Longmeyer got off a 3-pointer a fraction of a second before the shot clock expired. The shot was clearly going long, but it caromed off the glass and through the net, putting UIS up by a point.
It was the Prairie Stars' only lead of the game, and it lasted just 32 seconds.
On SIU’s next trip down the floor, Aaron Cook penetrated from the wing, then dished off to the opposite wing where Eric McGill hit the open three.
“Eric McGill hit a good shot off Aaron’s assist … just find a way,” Hinson said. “I told them in the timeout, ‘This is good for us. We need this.’ I think it will pay dividends.”
“I kind of smiled when he made the backboard three, but I knew we were going to win,” McGill said. “I just found an open shot and I just knocked it down.”
That sounds easy, but it was something the Salukis struggled with the entire night.
The Prairie Stars were determined Kavion Pippen wasn’t going to beat them. The UIS defense sagged into the lane, double- and triple-teaming Pippen on every touch. That left Salukis open on the perimeter, but SIU struggled to hit open shots.
“I don’t blame them,” Hinson said. “We couldn’t throw the ball inside because they said ‘Beat us from the perimeter.’ I would have told you going into the game, if anybody would have done that to us, ‘That will never happen.’ I was a little surprised at that. I thought what happened, the thing that probably upset me most, because we missed shots, it affected how we played at the offensive end.”
Cook, a sophomore guard, was the one player to step up. He scored a career-high 20 points, hitting three-of-five treys.
“They scouted us really well,” Cook said. “That’s usually our game plan, attack and get it to KP (Kavion Pippen) and Thik (Bol). They did a really good job of guarding that. Us guards had to step up big time.
“I’ve really been working on it all summer, my 3-point shot, it was good to see the work finally pay off. That’s what really got me going today. I think I did a good job of executing when it was time.”
Once regaining the lead on McGill’s trey, the Salukis rebuilt a bit of a cushion. Jonathan Wiley dumped in a rebound of Pippen’s miss and Tyler Smithpeters hit a pair of free throws.
In addition to Cook’s 20, McGill scored 13 and Pippen 11. Wiley led the Salukis with eight rebounds.
Gilwan Nelson of Mount Vernon led the Prairie Stars with 24 points.
“Tonight’s lesson to our team was never be upset about getting a win and there are going to be a lot of nights you don’t play well offensively and its proven you can win it on the defensive end of the floor and that’s what happened tonight,” Hinson said.
The Salukis return to action Tuesday night at Louisville.