CARBONDALE — Thik Bol didn't know the "MVP!" chants from the Dawg Pound on Wednesday night were for him because SIU's men's basketball team had a lot of candidates in its 61-56 win over Saint Louis.
Bol, a 6-foot-8 senior forward who blocked five shots in the final six minutes, had the most lasting impact of the Salukis' biggest win of the season. SIU (6-3) held the Billikens (6-2), the preseason favorites in the Atlantic 10 Conference, to a season-low 33.3 percent shooting in front of an announced crowd of 5,021 fans. The Salukis gave them a lot to cheer about in their fourth straight win, with three players in double figures, three with two steals, and just enough plays to emerge victorious in their first game of the season decided by six points or less.
"We talked all week long about toughness and fighting. And give credit to Saint Louis, that's what you have to do in order to beat those guys," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "You have to be that way."
SIU's Sean Lloyd scored 13 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds in 33 minutes. Armon Fletcher had another 13 points, including three big free throws in the final four minutes, and five boards in 33 minutes. Center Kavion Pippen made 5 of 6 from the field, scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots in just 23 minutes. Starting point guard Marcus Bartley scored nine points, his first points in the last three games.
Bol scored six points, grabbed six rebounds, and blocked a season-high five shots in just 13 minutes.
"I thought it saved us the game, really," Bol said. "I came in there thinking 'block everything,' really. That's what the coaches told me to do before the game."
Saint Louis entered the game with a NET of 62, the highest of any of the Salukis' opponents on the schedule outside of No. 8/9 Kentucky and No. 17/18 Buffalo. In search of their second road win of the season, the Billikens briefly took a 20-19 lead in the first half and outscored SIU in the paint (30-28), off turnovers (17-14) and off second-chance points (10-8).
Saint Louis had 18 more shots than the Salukis, but missed 20 of 26 3-point attempts and got outscored by seven at the free-throw line (11-4). Billikens coach Travis Ford said his team just wasn't good enough against another talented squad.
"These guys have been together for a while, and they understand. Barry does a good job with 'em," Ford said. "As I told the team coming in, they're a team that will win 20 games, I'm sure, probably have a very, very good chance to win their league. Once they get everybody healthy and everything, I think they've got a chance to be very, very good."