CARBONDALE — To try to wrap up its first win at Redbird Arena in 11 years, SIU's men's basketball team is taking a takeaway mentality to Normal tonight.
The Salukis want to score when they have the ball, and take it away as much as possible with a 6-2 sophomore that has 32 steals in 25 games, and three more perimeter defenders that stand 6-5. SIU (16-9, 8-4 Missouri Valley Conference) had 11 steals, one off its season high, in its 74-70 win over the Redbirds (13-11, 7-5) Jan. 13 in Carbondale.
"Illinois State, before Wichita State got out of the league, they really proved how important it was to have length," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "Certainly we changed our recruiting in order to get guys with more length, an example, Marcus Bartley, a 6-5 point guard. Moving Armon Fletcher to the hybrid helped us. Sean Lloyd has a great wingspan."
Lloyd, a 6-5 junior, leads SIU with 38 steals this season (1.5 per game, seventh-best in the MVC). Aaron Cook, a 6-2 sophomore, is right behind him with 32 (1.3 per game, 10th in the Valley). Fletcher, SIU's leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, has 30 steals in 24 starts.
The Salukis scored 17 points off 20 Redbird turnovers back in January. Milik Yarbrough, Illinois State's top scorer at 17 points per game, had seven of his team's 20 turnovers and finished with six points.
"They have good length, don't get me wrong, but that's not what makes them so hard to play against," Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. "They have four guys that naturally come and take your ball, not from their length. Six of those steals we had the ball and they stripped us. That's hard to teach, but Lloyd, Fletcher, (Tyler) Smithpeters and Cook are just so good at getting those deflections on the ball as opposed to off the ball. It's really just a matter of knowing they do it and trying to be stronger with the ball."
Winners of three straight, Illinois State will be without one of its top ballhandlers when the Salukis stroll in with their five-game winning streak. Guard Keyshawn Evans, the Redbirds' top 3-point shooter and third-leading scorer (12.3 points per game), suffered a bone bruise on his left knee and is expected to miss between 1-3 weeks. Evans leads the team in minutes (30.5 per game), 3-pointers (71) and 3-point percentage (43.8 percent).
Matt Hein, a 6-3 sophomore, is expected to make his sixth start of the season tonight in Evans' place.
The Redbirds could also be without Yarbrough tonight after he was arrested early Wednesday morning by Normal police for failing to appear in court on a pending traffic citation, according to the Bloomington Pantagraph. Yarbrough posted $420 bond. Muller did not comment on his status for tonight's game as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Pantagraph.