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Saluki Basketball

SIU Basketball | Braves at Salukis: 3 things to watch

CARBONDALE — SIU's men's basketball team left the Virgin Islands thinking it could have gone 3-0 at the eight-team Paradise Jam. 

The Salukis (2-3) beat the only Power Five conference team in the field, Colorado, in their multi-team event (MTE) opener, and then lost to Northeastern by double digits. SIU came back against one of the youngest Creighton teams it'll ever see, and lost on Ryan Nembhard's floater in the lane that bounced on the rim, and then fell through at the buzzer for a 66-64 win. 

Guard Lance Jones, a member of the Paradise Jam All-Tournament Team, scored 14 points against the Bluejays Monday. Forward Marcus Domask also had 14. Center Kyler Filewich added 10 points and three rebounds off the bench. Jones (49 points) and Domask (37) carried the bulk of the offensive load for SIU. Guard Steven Verplancken Jr. had six points against Northeastern and three against Creighton after putting up 18 in the win over Colorado. Ben Coupet Jr., who moved into the starting lineup in place of Dalton Banks in Monday's tournament finale, finished the tournament with 25 points and 12 boards in the three games. 

The Salukis are still looking for a more consistent third scorer going into their final game before opening conference play in their earliest MVC contest ever. SIU hosts Alcorn State (0-4) Friday night at 7, then opens MVC play against Evansville (2-6) Wednesday, Dec. 1. It will be the earliest MVC game in both schools' history. 

Here are three things to watch for in Friday's ASU-SIU contest at the Banterra Center:

No. 1 — Turning the page

Nembhard's game-winner at the buzzer pushed SIU to 1-2 in the tournament, and a fifth-place finish. The Salukis didn't play their best against Northeastern, a team from the CAA that had Colorado State down almost 20 points in the championship game before eventually losing by 10. A win against their old MVC rivals would have been a nice way to end the event. 

It wasn't to be, and moved two glaring issues to the forefront for the Salukis. Who will be the third amigo to Jones and Domask, and can SIU guard well enough to win low-scoring games? Verplancken and Coupet showed glimpses of being consistent scorers in the Virgin Islands, and Trent Brown will hopefully return from a back injury that has kept him out of playing this season thus far in the conference opener. Nembhard hit the same shot at the end of the first half that he finished at the end of the game. 

No. 2 — Up and down or down and up

ASU was picked seventh in the preseason Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) poll and is playing SIU for the first time ever. The Braves want to push the tempo, and force turnovers. They have forced 12 or more in all of their last three games, including at No. 1 Gonzaga, and coach Landon Bussie has a history of forcing the tempo. 

When he was an assistant coach at Praire View A&M, they were top 10 in the country in turnovers forced three straight years and won the conference title in 2019 and 2020. Their 2020 team won the SWAC Tournament and was headed to the NCAAs before it was canceled due to COVID-19. Without Brown, SIU has been susceptible to giving up easy points off turnovers. 

No. 3 — Homecourt advantage

Other than maybe the NFL, there's no greater homecourt advantage than in college basketball. SIU has won nine straight home games against non-conference opponents, and is 10-1 under Mullins with the only loss to a good San Francisco team. The Salukis secured their first win of the season over Austin Peay 73-55 Nov. 12.

ASU's game at SIU is part of a 16-game road stretch to open the season. The Braves played their first three SWAC games on the road, before returning home Jan. 15 to play Texas Southern. They won't be fazed by an early deficit, and nearly won at Portland and at Seattle. The Salukis want to jump on them early, and put them away early in the second half. 

todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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