SIU's men's basketball team moved to 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 58-51 win at Northern Iowa Saturday.
Center Kavion Pippen scored a game-high 18 points, four of them during a 15-4 run that helped the Salukis turn a five-point deficit into a six-point lead over eight minutes. SIU (9-6, 2-0 MVC) held the Panthers (6-9, 1-1) to 31.5-percent shooting, its second-best defensive effort of the season. The Salukis held Arkansas-Pine Bluff to 31 percent shooting in a 30-point win Nov. 17, 2018.
Here are three more things we learned about SIU's first back-to-back road wins in Cedar Falls, Iowa, since 1994-95:
No. 1 — Salukis are best going through Pippen
You already knew this, but SIU has won some games without Pippen having a big game. The Salukis' 6-foot-10 center had four points in the win against Tulsa and nine in the road win at SIU-Edwardsville, but his ability to score Saturday gave the Panthers a whole new problem.
Pippen made 7 of 10 from the field and all four of his free-throw attempts in 22 minutes. His two at the stripe with 1:43 to play gave SIU a three-point lead. Even if he doesn't shoot it, when Pippen gets the basketball, the defense collapses in a way that opens up things for the Salukis' guards.
"When they settle into their half-court and they need to have a good possession, everybody in the gym knows where it's goin', and that's to their credit, that they've got a couple of different ways they can get him the basketball," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. "It's hard to keep it out of his hands, because he's so big. There are some guys that are 6-11 and you can, maybe, move 'em around. They just don't have the same size that Pippen has. He's tall. He's got the size. He's got good feet. It's hard to keep it out of his hands, and when he gets it, if you don't go get him right away, he's gonna get himself a good shot."
SIU shot 45 percent from the field (18 of 40), including 6 of 15 from the 3-point line. The Salukis outscored the Panthers 16-8 at the free-throw line, drawing 24 attempts to Northern Iowa's 14 at the McLeod Center. SIU was able to win for only the second time this season with a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, with seven assists and 14 turnovers. The Salukis were able to beat Saint Louis 61-56 with 11 assists and 16 turnovers earlier this season.
No. 2 — A.J. Green is going to be a big-time player
Northern Iowa freshman guard A.J. Green is only the second top-150 player on the Rivals.com recruiting list in the last few years to sign with a Valley team (Fred VanVleet was also a top-150 player). Green has lived up to the billing, but still looks like a freshman at times.
Green scored a team-high 16 points in 32 minutes Saturday, but took 16 shots to do it. The 6-4, 175-pound point guard has scored in double figures in 12 of 15 games this season and made the Paradise Jam All-Tournament Team. When the Salukis failed to pick him up near mid-court, he fired, and more often than not, hit the bottom of the net.
No. 3 — SIU can turn it up on defense
Northern Iowa had 12 turnovers in Saturday's loss, and four of them came during a 15-4 run when SIU turned a five-point deficit into a six-point lead. Aaron Cook stole the ball from Green twice during the run, which ultimately set the tone for the Salukis' victory.
"We were all just locked in at the defensive end," SIU guard Marcus Bartley said. "We really made that a focus coming in, just really jumping to the ball and pressuring the ball."
The Panthers had only four field goals the last 12 minutes of the game. SIU had nine steals, the most for the Salukis in their last six games, and limited Northern Iowa to 9 of 34 from the 3-point line (26.5 percent).