No. 1 — Good starts need to lead to good finishes
SIU answered SIU-Edwardsville's free throw 87 seconds into the game with 10 straight points at SIU Arena Wednesday. The Salukis led by 20 points with 9:22 to go in the half, but went into the locker room up only 13 after the Cougars outscored them 12-5 the last five minutes.
"Overall, we had a good game. It feels good to be on the other end of blowing teams out," SIU guard Armon Fletcher said. "We just gotta keep on building on this and not let teams come back in the last few minutes."
SIU (3-2) got all five starters into double figures and held the Cougars (1-5), already an offensive-challenged team, to 29.3 percent shooting (17 of 58). SIUE outscored the Salukis 13-0 in the final four minutes. Yes, the game was well over before that, but, as SIU coach Barry Hinson said after the game, good teams bury their opponents when given the chance.
It's rare, even in the NBA, but the Salukis nearly buried the Cougars in the first 20 minutes but let them back in.
No. 2 — Saluki guards can score inside the arc
Jonathan Wiley, if you want to call him a guard (I prefer guard/forward), had his first double-double as a Saluki Wednesday night with a career-high 12 points and career-high 10 rebounds in 21 minutes. Wiley knows his spots, knows when to attack, and is a decent free throw shooter (75 percent for his SIU career). SIU's three starting guards combined to shoot 14 of 21 from the field against the Cougars, probably about half of their field goals in transition.
The Salukis scored 14 points off SIUE's 11 turnovers and had 12 fast break points. Against a 2-3 and a 1-3-1 zone, SIU only took 15 3-pointers and sank a season-high eight of them. Some of that is the attention toward center Kavion Pippen, who has scored 10 points or more every game this season, but some of it is also the guards' ability to beat their defender off the dribble.
SIU had 20 assists on 31 buckets mostly because it was able to push the Cougars' defense out of whack off dribble penetration.
No. 3 — Cougars are still rebuilding under Harris
SIUE coach Jon Harris is eager to start showing fans some progress after a six-win season in 2016-17 and as many wins the year before.
Harris played at Marquette and was on Cuonzo Martin's staff at Tennessee, Missouri State and Cal. His best two players Wednesday were starting guard Christian Ellis and backup guard Jaylen McCoy. Ellis had 16 points, three assists and two turnovers, and McCoy had three of the Cougars' four 3-pointers, made both of his free-throw attempts, grabbed three rebounds, scored 13 points and had three steals in 28 minutes.
Starting forward Keenan Simmons got into foul trouble, and leading scorer David Kinchen went 2 of 12 from the field. Harris said the team must practice more consistently before it begins to play more consistently.
"We've gotta find ways to be better, I think mentally more than anything. And for us, winning games starts in practice," he said. "I don't think we had a great practice yesterday, Tuesday. We didn't have a great practice, and that showed (Wednesday). We've gotta find a way to be consistently the same people all the time. We've gotta practice the same level all the time, the same state of mind all the time, and I think our results will change come game time."