CARBONDALE — The SIU men's basketball Payback Tour made another stop at SIU Arena Saturday night against Valparaiso.
Kavion Pippen, who had 14 points in the Salukis' first meeting against the Crusaders but watched their bigs combine for 28, put up a game-high 21 in a 65-59 win. The 6-foot-10 junior center opened with a two-handed slam dunk for SIU's first points of the night, and set the tone for what turned into one of his most dominating performances of the season.
"I saw him jump up, and I'm thinking in my head 'If he dunks this, he's gonna have a real good game, but if he lays it up and tries to be pretty and stuff, it might not be good,' and he went up and dunked on, like, three guys," said SIU guard Armon Fletcher, who told Pippen to dunk on somebody before the game. "It's us having confidence in him, and staying on him to keep him going, and he did a good job tonight."
Pippen made 9 of 11 from the field in 29 minutes, including a critical layup over Valparaiso center Derrik Smits in the final three minutes. Down three after two Tevonn Walker free throws, Pippen's three-point play tied the game at 59 and set up Fletcher's biggest shot of the night. Moments after Max Joseph missed a clean look at the rim on a driving layup, Fletcher put the Salukis (16-9, 8-4 Missouri Valley Conference) ahead to stay with his only 3-pointer of the night.
Pippen never lost his confidence after scoring 10 of his 21 points in the first half.
"They just got me going," Pippen said. "They felt like there wasn't an answer for me, so I just tried to continue to finish, so that's what I tried to do."
Valparaiso (12-13, 3-9) seemed to answer every Saluki run there was before missing their last five shots. Bakari Evelyn and Tevonn Walker missed 3-point attempts in the final minute that might have swung the tide back to the Crusaders.
Instead, SIU rolled to its fifth straight victory and sole possession of second place in the Valley after Drake beat Bradley. Fletcher scored 12 points, Tyler Smithpeters had eight off the bench, and Marcus Bartley, Aaron Cook and Sean Lloyd all scored seven.
SIU coach Barry Hinson wrapped up career win No. 300 in front of a season-high crowd of 5,694 fans, and said he couldn't have done it without players like Pippen.
"He wanted (the ball) because how he played at Valpo. There was enough of challenging that went on," Hinson said. "The other side of that point is we got him the ball. Those passes are hard to make at times, and we did a good job of getting him the ball."