CARBONDALE — SIU's men's basketball team got the pace it wanted against 25th-ranked Buffalo Monday night, but not the results at SIU Arena.
Sean Lloyd, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference's All-Defensive Team last season, helped limit Bulls star guard C.J. Massinburg to seven points in 34 minutes, but Jeremy Harris and Montell McRae scored 11 each to lead Buffalo to a 62-53 win. Every Bull but Tra'von Fagan scored in a game that took more of the tone of the Salukis than the preseason favorites in the Mid-American Conference East Division.
Without starting guard/forward Armon Fletcher, who missed the game with a knee injury, SIU trailed 31-27 at the break and were down just five after two Kavion Pippen free throws at the 11:30 mark. The Salukis (0-2) managed just one field goal the next three minutes and went down 51-41 off Davonta Jordan's 3-pointer. Buffalo (3-0) missed 20 of 28 3s but won the rebounding battle by eight and forced 19 turnovers.
"I think they sped us up tonight. I thought we dribbled way, way too much," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "I thought we dribbled everywhere. Our cuts weren't good. Our passes weren't crisp. We got stagnant. A lot of time, you do that. Fear paralyzes you. I'm not saying our guys were afraid, but we went to a point where we played not to lose instead of to win. That always makes ya stagnant."
Pippen delivered a game-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting and grabbed five rebounds, but was limited to 23 minutes because of foul trouble. Backup Thik Bol played only two minutes in the first half because of two personal fouls, and Hinson had to turn to Rudy Stradnieks and Brendon Gooch.
If it wasn't for SIU's defense — Buffalo made 22 of 62 from the field, 35.5 percent — the Salukis might have struggled even more in front of an announced crowd of 4,373 for the inaugural Charles Helleny Tip-Off Classic. Bulls coach Nate Oats said his team had to adjust on the fly.
"On our offensive end, we felt like we could attack Pippen on ball-screens a little bit, but it turned out we didn't really get that much out of that," Oats said. "We just had to grind out a win. Kind of out-toughed 'em a little bit, and they're a really tough team. We got on the glass a little bit, created some second-chance points, and we just manufactured some points. Our game plan wasn't going that well for us. We just had to grind out a win here."
The Bulls took 150 shots in wins over St. Francis (Pennsylvania) and 13th-ranked West Virginia and broke into The Associated Press top 25 poll for the first time before the game. Jordan scored nine points, took a couple of charges, and added five assists against one turnover in 25 minutes. Nick Perkins, the MAC's sixth man of the year the last two seasons, had seven points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes to help Buffalo take the first of two meetings this season against SIU.
The Salukis hope Fletcher is back for the second meeting in mid-December after bruising his knee. Hinson said he learned of Fletcher's injury Sunday night and had an MRI done. It revealed no structural damage, but some potential problems. Fletcher warmed up on the court before Monday night's game but couldn't go. Hinson said he did not know exactly when SIU's preseason first team all-conference senior would return, but expected him to be available later this month.
Fletcher missed one game last season after dislocating his knee, but led the Salukis in scoring at 14.1 points per game. He played only 15 minutes Friday night at Kentucky because of foul trouble.
SIU is off until Saturday, when it hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 7 p.m. in the first game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Holiday Invitational. The Salukis host the Golden Lions and Howard Nov. 19 before taking on UMass in Las Vegas on Thanksgiving Day and either Tulsa or No. 6 Nevada the following night.