CARBONDALE — With just over three minutes remaining the Saluki women’s basketball team had whittled the Missouri State lead to six. A defensive stop gave the Salukis a chance to pull to within three.
Instead, as the time drained from the shot clock, Kristen Nelson attempted to feed Nicole Martin in the post. Alexa Willard stepped in front of the pass and pushed the ball down court and hit a trey.
That summed up SIU’s night in a 70-58 loss to the league-leading Bears.
“Obviously, I think that was a tough one,” said SIU coach Cindy Stein. “I think our kids worked their butts off. We were scrapping, we were playing hard, but we have to play smarter.
“That’s one of the things we talked about, offensive boards, turnovers, untimely turnovers. Those are the things we have to clean up. That’s the biggest thing holding us back right now, our untimely turnovers.”
The Salukis committed 19 turnovers in the game, 14 of which were Missouri State steals.
“I think just the turnovers and offensive rebounds are what killed us tonight,” said junior guard Makenzie Silvey. “We had some chances to get loose balls and we tried to dribble it instead of just possessing it with two hands. We ended up turning those over. That kind of killed us there at the end.”
“That (14 steals) tells you right there, there were times we were just throwing the ball in the air because we were out of control,” Stein said. “We’d look to drive, we weren’t poised. We didn’t jump-stop to see who was open. We just kind of threw it. Jump passes ... a jump pass is going to be a turnover almost every time against an athletic team.”
Rebounding also proved to be a struggle for SIU. Missouri State out-rebounded the Salukis, 41-34, but also enjoyed a 14-9 advantage on the offensive boards. Several times the Bears got three shots on a single possession.
And, many of the Bears’ offensive rebounds weren’t clean, the ball being batted around once or twice before Missouri State gained possession.
“It was a battle out there,” said Martin. “Our coaches said it would be. Our posts, including me, just have to learn how to get tough. That’s how it’s going to be. I would say they were just a little more physical.
“It’s highly frustrating when you think you have the ball. It’s about not going up there with just one hand. We have a bad habit of doing that. We have to work on being fundamental and physical.”
“You just have to hold your box outs,” Stein said. “You have to be strong. You have to be athletic. You can’t try to one-hand anything. A lot of people were just hitting the ball out of there. Then, it’s just off to the races. I thought the fight was good, the execution has to get better.”
Despite losing the last three games, against the top teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, Stein thinks the team is close to putting it all together.
“We have this continuation of things we have to get better at,” she said. “We’re so close. We just have to get over this hump. For whatever reason it’s a lot harder this year. We just have to figure it out.”
Silvey led SIU with 15 points and Martin scored 14. Danielle Gitzen scored 19 for the 14-7 Bears. Missouri State is 10-0 in MVC play.
The Salukis return to action next Friday, facing Bradley at home.