CARBONDALE — Defense and rebounding have led Saint Louis University's men's basketball team to six wins in its first seven games, and SIU is ready to get in the muck tonight at SIU Arena.
The Salukis (5-3) have cleared the 75-point mark in five of their last six games, but are preparing for a low-scoring affair against the Billikens (6-1) beginning at 7 p.m. You could even say they're looking forward to it.
"SLU's pretty good this year. They have a lot of good wins," said SIU guard Armon Fletcher, noting SLU's victories over Butler and Seton Hall. "It's gonna be a battle. It's gonna be a fight (Wednesday) night, and we know what we gotta bring to come out victorious. It's just really a lot of excitement going into it."
Saint Louis, the preseason favorite in the Atlantic 10 Conference, held Butler to 28.1 percent shooting Saturday night in a 64-52 victory. Kamar Baldwin and Paul Jorgensen, two Bulldogs who entered the game averaging over 20 points a game, went a combined 5 of 30 from the field at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis. Baldwin nearly had as many turnovers (five) as points (six), and Jorgensen scored nine points to go with eight rebounds.
"We did a very good job of creating deflections and steals, and blocked shots," Saint Louis coach Travis Ford said. "They had a couple of guys that were averaging 20 points apiece and we did a great job with those guys. It was one of our best defensive efforts for 40 minutes, and we've been inconsistent. Even during stretches within games we've been wildly inconsistent."
The Billikens outrebounded the Bulldogs 41-38 and got two players into double figures, senior guards Javon Bess (18 points) and Tramaine Isabell Jr. (10 points). This season, the team that led the A-10 in almost major rebounding category is plus-7.1 for the season off the glass. SIU has been outboarded four times this season, and matched SIU-Edwardsville Saturday with 32 rebounds apiece.
SIU coach Barry Hinson expects the Salukis to play as hard as the Billikens with a signature win on the line. Saint Louis' NET is 64 this week, higher than any team in the Missouri Valley Conference (the NET is the NCAA Evaluation Tool, a number that has replaced the RPI). SIU's best win this season is over Tulsa, No. 176 in the NET, and the Salukis will get two more top-100 chances with games at Buffalo (No. 13 in the NET) and at home against Murray State (No. 96) coming up.
"I hope they're saying the same thing about us. We're going to come after them, too," Hinson said. "Our defensive numbers are just as good as theirs. I think it's going to be a slugfest. I think it's going to be a blood bath. I think this is going to be a heckuva basketball game. I think every time down the floor it's going to be hard to get a basket on either side."
Saint Louis leads the series against SIU 30-26 after beating the Salukis 74-69 last season in St. Louis. SIU last beat the Billikens in 2016, the last time they played at SIU Arena, by the score of 70-55.