CARBONDALE — One win away from career victory No. 300, SIU men's basketball coach Barry Hinson stressed what got his team to this point: effort.
The Salukis (15-9, 7-4 Missouri Valley Conference) didn't have it at Valparaiso in early January, when the Crusaders (12-12, 3-8) throttled them 83-72. They've had it in abundance, from several different players, during their four-game winning streak entering tonight's rematch at SIU Arena.
"We didn't play hard. This wasn't a fluke. They just absolutely whipped our butts," Hinson said. "Certainly they have size, they destroyed us on the interior, they destroyed us on the exterior. If we don't play better the same result will happen."
SIU and Valparaiso went in different directions since their first meeting at the Athletics-Recreation Center (ARC) in Valparaiso, Indiana, Jan. 6. The Salukis fought Bradley to a six-point loss in Peoria the next game, and won five of their next six games to pull into a tie for second place in the Valley with seven games to play.
The Crusaders beat Drake at home for their first back-to-back wins in over a month, but dropped their next five games before topping Indiana State 69-63 Wednesday night. Valparaiso, which won the Horizon League regular-season title the last three years before moving to the Valley this season, has struggled to score and sits tied with Northern Iowa for last place in the league.
Even after putting up 69 points on the Sycamores, the Crusaders enter tonight's game with the seventh-best scoring offense in the Valley (66.5 points per game) in conference games. Sophomore guard Bakari Evelyn (20 points) and senior guard Tevonn Walker (14) were Valparaiso's only players in double figures Wednesday. The Crusaders' other three starters combined for nine points.
Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said earlier this week he was more focused at improving the other end.
"We talk about executing your assignment, and it seems like every possession there is a guy that is not necessarily executing their assignment whether it be a box-out to clean out a possession, or a rotation," Lottich said. "I know we've been struggling to score, but for us, we're really more concerned of getting back to the defensive principles that we've kind of grown accustomed to."
Effort and execution have gone hand-and-hand for SIU during its current win streak, the longest since January 2016. The Salukis are shooting 53.9 percent from the field during the winning streak, including 46.3 percent from the 3-point line, while averaging 75.8 points per game. SIU, which is 11-1 when holding opponents to under 70 points, beat Illinois State 74-70, Indiana State 82-77 and Missouri State 79-77 in its last six games.
"A little bit of everything," SIU senior guard Tyler Smithpeters said. "I think we've just picked up the momentum, and we're going with it right now. I think we're playing better defense, which translates to our offense."
Hinson, 94-92 at SIU in his sixth season here, moved to 299-232 overall with Tuesday's 78-67 win at Drake. His 263 wins as a coach in the Valley (Hinson coached nine years at Missouri State and two years at Oral Roberts) rank fourth all-time in league history. Oklahoma State icon Henry Iba won 486 between 1934-57 at Oklahoma State, Eddie Hickey won 337 games with Creighton and Saint Louis from 1935-43 and 1946-58, and former Creighton leader Dana Altman won 327 between 1994-2010.
After three straight losing seasons at SIU to start, Hinson is three wins away from his third straight winning season here. The Salukis are still yet to play in the postseason under Hinson, but sit a game back of Loyola (18-5, 8-3) in the Valley standings entering the weekend.
"I think it just tells you how fortunate I've been to have the amount of good players and great assistants," Hinson said. "I think it speaks volumes with that right there. We have put ourselves in a position where, you guys, I know, didn't think we'd be this time of the year. Let's just continue to do what we're doing."