CARBONDALE — Thik Bol didn't practice Monday because of his sore knee, but the senior forward gave SIU men's basketball coach Barry Hinson a pretty good indication he was up for something big before Wednesday's game against Saint Louis.
"He's bangin' around out there at shootaround like I've never seen this guy before," Hinson said. "It'd been like we'd gone to Oral Roberts and come out of one of the healing ceremonies. It was unbelievable. It was like night and day. When he's like that, we got a chance to be pretty good."
Bol was very good in SIU's 61-56 win over Saint Louis, rejecting five shots in less than six minutes to help the Salukis hold onto a game they nearly won by double digits. SIU (6-3) missed five of its last six free-throw attempts, but was able to hang on for the victory over the preseason Atlantic 10 Conference favorites because the Billikens managed just four field goals the final four minutes.
Bol, who blocked 76 shots in 2016-17 before a torn meniscus sidelined him for the entire 2017-18 season, rejected three other potential field goals to help the Salukis protect a seven-point lead that went to four before it was over. His five blocks in 13 minutes tied for the 11th-most ever in one game and were two behind his career-high set against Loyola in 2017.
"They told us before the game they're going to drive the whole game, really," Bol said. "I was just thinking 'I should just start blocking shots if they're going to drive all the time.'"
CARBONDALE — For 20 minutes Wednesday night the Southern Illinois University basketball team…
Bol added six points and six rebounds to help the Salukis win their fourth straight game. Armon Fletcher and Sean Lloyd added 13 points apiece, and Kavion Pippen had 10 points and two blocks for SIU.
Forward Hasahn French had 13 points and nine rebounds and Belleville Althoff product Jordan Goodwin had 12 points for the Billikens (6-2), who were going for their second road win of the season. Leading scorer Javon Bess went 1 of 10 from the field, including 1 of 7 from the 3-point line, but grabbed 15 rebounds to help Saint Louis outboard SIU 45-39.
The Billikens had 18 more shots than the Salukis, 10 second-chance points and 17 points off SIU's 16 turnovers, but shot just 33.3 percent from the field (23 of 69). Saint Louis missed 20 of 26 behind the arc.
"We made enough, kind of like golf, made enough just to keep shootin' 'em," Saint Louis coach Travis Ford said. "Keep 'em coming back."
SIU appeared in control in the final two minutes after Fred Thatch Jr. missed a 3-pointer that might have cut its lead from seven to four. Sean Lloyd, who led SIU with nine rebounds, grabbed the board and started what appeared to be an easy fast-break opportunity with Eric McGill and Thik Bol.
Instead of going in for the easy layup, McGill tried to lob it to Bol, who missed the ball. It went out of bounds for a turnover, and Demarius Jacobs, a Saluki recruit at one time, drilled a 3 with 58 seconds to go.
SIU's Marcus Bartley, ironically, a former Billiken, was fouled at the other end and converted both free throws for a six-point lead with 46 seconds to play. Tramaine Isabell Jr. scored for Saint Louis, but Fletcher canned two free throws to keep the lead at six. Goodwin answered at the other end, and after McGill, a 70.8 percent free-throw shooter, missed two at the line, the Billikens got another chance.
Bess missed a 3-pointer that would have pulled Saint Louis within one and planked out a layup attempt to end those chances. Fletcher split a pair of free throws with five seconds to go to end a signature win for a Saluki team beginning to live up to its expectations.
"The ugly part doesn't surprise me. The turnovers at the end surprises me," Hinson said. "The missed free throws, that's going to happen, but it's been a long time where I've been in a game where a guy literally, in eight possessions, just changed it all by himself. I've never seen anything like that, guys. What Thik Bol did tonight was about as impressive as I've seen at the defensive end."