CARBONDALE — SIU's men's basketball team got another standout performance from center Kavion Pippen against Evansville on Saturday night, and this time he had company.
Pippen just missed his third straight 20-point game, finishing with 18 in 27 minutes, and the Salukis' starting guard trio combined for 41 in a 78-73 win over the Purple Aces at SIU Arena. Aaron Cook scored 15 points and handed out a game-high seven assists, Sean Lloyd had 14 and Eric McGill added 12 to help the Salukis (13-12, 6-6 Missouri Valley Conference) stay in sixth place in the league with six games to play.
"This team is a team that has to get everybody going for us to be successful and to win," said Cook, who was the only other Saluki in double figures along with Pippen at Missouri State on Wednesday night. "We got that pretty much from all the guys and the guys that came off the bench."
SIU coach Barry Hinson was particularly pleased with Cook's performance at both ends of the court. The junior point guard made 5 of 10 from the field and 3 of 4 at the free-throw line. His seven assists were three off his career-high set against Howard earlier this season, and his three steals tied for the team lead. Cook also helped hold Evansville's leading scorer, guard K.J. Riley, three points under his season average of 14 points a game.
"The key to our success tonight, and the key to our success this whole season is going to be about Aaron Cook," Hinson said. "Aaron had seven assists, one turnover tonight, and he also played his tail off against K.J. Riley."
SIU could move into a tie for fourth place if Illinois State wins at Missouri State and Loyola beats Valparaiso in Indiana on Sunday. The Salukis may continue to move up if they get the type of balanced scoring they received in front of an announced crowd of 4,923 fans. McGill scored nine of his 12 points in the first half, and Lloyd grabbed eight rebounds and had three of SIU's 11 steals.
Marty Hill's 20 points paced Evansville (10-15, 4-8), which never went away after trailing by as much as 12 late in the game. Armon Fletcher's alley-oop with 3:09 to play put SIU up 66-54, but Hill answered with one of his four 3-pointers. After back-to-back 3s from Hill and K.J. Riley in the final 17 seconds, the Aces got as close as three points before Fletcher hit two free throws to seal the win.
"This was the first time we came out and fought in a while. They could have packed it in, and they didn't," Evansville coach Walter McCarty said. "Southern Illinois has got a talented team. They've got some talented ballplayers. We didn't give in. We fought, and that's what I wanted to see, to see them go out there and fight. Give them credit. They made big shots and our guys weren't very connected. It happens."
Aces forward Dainius Chatkevicius was a thorn in SIU's side all night, but drew his fourth foul with 7:41 to go and did not return after the Salukis went small. Chatkevicius, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound senior, had his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 boards in 20 minutes. Riley added 11 points, five rebounds and four assists for Evansville.
"He absolutely kicked our butt. We had nobody that could stop him," Hinson said. " Our bigs played at one end. They didn't play at the other end, and give him credit. He just kicked our tail tonight, and Marty did, too."