CARBONDALE — No Abby Brockmeyer, no Makenzie Silvey?
No problem, at least not for the last quarter and a half on Friday.
Playing without their top two scorers due to COVID-19 protocol, the SIU women broke open a close, low-scoring game with a 32-7 run that led to a 59-41 win over Evansville in each team’s Missouri Valley Conference opener at Banterra Center.
“Knowing we had to start the conference season without them was tough,” said junior guard Payton McCallister. “I would say the win was for them.”
McCallister certainly did her part with a career-high 16 points and five steals, just one off her career best. Rachel Pudlowski came off the bench to score 11, just one short of tying her career high.
All eight players who played for the Salukis (4-2, 1-0) scored as they improved to 8-0 in conference openers under coach Cindy Stein. That kind of team effort was necessary without Brockmeyer and Silvey.
It was kept under wraps all week until warmups, when neither senior leader took the floor. Just before tip-off, it was confirmed by an SIU spokesman that Brockmeyer and Silvey would miss the weekend series. They are expected to return for next weekend's two games at Bradley.
Stein said she “had a few days” to prepare the team to play without both players, who each average 13.8 ppg.
“I don’t remember when we were told, but we knew we weren’t going to have them,” Stein said. “That’s how we prepared to play.”
Making matters tougher for SIU was that sixth woman Gabby Walker, who scored in double figures the previous four games, endured a 2 for 12, 4-point game in a rare turn as a starter.
But after the Purple Aces’ A’Niah Griffin banged in a 3-pointer with 6:44 left in the third quarter to give her team a 25-24 edge, the Salukis found traction on offense. It was an unlikely source who supplied the spark.
Pudlowski, who entered Friday with double-figure performances in just two of her 88 career games, converted a layup, two foul shots and a putback in a 72-second span for a 30-25 advantage at the 4:35 mark.
“What I love about her is that she embraces any role you give her,” Stein said. “She’s a physical player and at that point in the game, that’s what we needed.”
Prior to Pudlowski’s spurt, SIU was 10 of 42 from the field, missing open layups and 3s seemingly at will. Over the last 15:47, it canned 12 of 24, including 7 of 13 from the 3-point line.
Quierra Love and Caitlin Link each went 3 of 7 from distance, canning bombs in the final 3:07 of the third to up the lead to 38-29. McCallister broke the game open in the first 4:14 of the fourth quarter with a runner, a top of the key 3 and two foul shots for a 50-32 advantage.
But the game’s outstanding player might have been someone who was just 3 of 8 from the field and finished with six points. That was freshman Adrianna Katcher, who hauled in a career-high 14 rebounds while doing the lion’s share of the defensive work against Evansville standout Abby Feit.
While Katcher had help – three different players blocked Feit’s shot on the day – she was the primary defender for most of the game. Feit went just 2 of 8 in 29 minutes, settling for a career-low four points.
“Adrianna did really well on finding her,” McCallister said. “Our ball pressure made it easy to find her.”
Griffin scored 12 points for the Aces (4-2, 0-1), which were denied their first 5-1 start in 17 years. They connected on just 32.6 percent of their shots and committed 19 turnovers that the Salukis converted into 19 points.
SIU aims for a series sweep at 3 p.m. Saturday.
DAWG BITES: Junior forward Janell Douvier made her SIU debut Friday after missing the first five games with a broken left hand. Douvier scored one point in 12 minutes but contributed four rebounds and tied for the team lead with three assists. … The league’s cleanest teams in terms of fouls did what one might expect – stay away from whistles. Evansville committed just 11 fouls, SIU 14. … The Salukis held the Purple Aces scoreless for stretches of 6:20 and 4:31 in the second half, as well as a 5:33 span in the first half.