CARBONDALE — Always looking to fire in transition, Valparaiso's men's basketball team looked like it had an opportunity early in the second half at SIU Tuesday night.
The Crusaders had a 2-on-1, with the ball coming up the left side of the arc, but the Salukis recovered well enough to push the ball back to mid-court. Valparaiso ended up missing a long jumper, and went on to lose 63-50. SIU's top-ranked scoring defense in the Missouri Valley Conference has been centered on limiting post touches and covering up dribble drives with help-side defenders, but it's also extended to the 3-point arc. The Salukis (8-8, 2-1 MVC) have allowed a league-low 88 3-pointers on 306 attempts (28.8%) entering Saturday's game at Bradley (11-5, 2-1).
"We talk about ball pressure. We talk about being loaded up and being connected," SIU coach Bryan Mullins said after his team limited Valparaiso to 6 of 25 behind the arc. "I think Valpo had some decent shots, and Illinois State had some decent shots, that they missed. We need to continue to make them make another play. Contest every shot; that has always been one of our things. Our guys are starting to buy into that second and third effort on the defensive side of the ball."
The Crusaders' (8-8, 1-2) 50 points were a season-low after they shot 32.2% from the field (19 of 59). They became the fourth opponent in the last five games to shoot less than 41% from the field against the Salukis, who own the most efficient defense in the league, according to KenPom.com.
You have free articles remaining.
They have struggled to take that defense on the road, however, going 1-7 outside the walls of the Banterra Center. SIU is 0-5 in true road games, with Bradley and Loyola on deck.
"We can't let up. We can't be complacent. We have to play with this type of energy on the road," Mullins said. "It doesn't matter where we play, defense travels. That has to be us. We have to have those grind-it-out wins on the road."
The Salukis will use a former Brave to try to get it done at Carver Arena in Peoria. Grad student Ronnie Suggs, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound lefty, was recruited by Bradley coach Brian Wardle and finished his freshman year third on the team in scoring (8.5 points per game). He scored 17 points at No. 10 Arizona and had 15 points and 10 boards against Loyola in the 2016 MVC Tournament.
Suggs knows what it's like to not have high outside expectations, as his first team at Bradley won five games, and knows Saturday's game is a big opportunity to put the Salukis in the conference discussion. SIU was picked last in the preseason poll, but enters the weekend in a six-way tie for first place. The Braves won the MVC Tournament last season for their first NCAA Tournament berth in 13 years.
"Every game is a chance to show people who we are, and that we're not 10 seeds here," Suggs said.
On Twitter: @THefferman