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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

The Saluki women’s basketball team can get to the top of the hump, but often this season they can’t get over it.

After Sunday’s 68-66 home loss to Illinois State, the Saluki women are 11-12 overall. Six of those losses are by five points or less. Too many times this season the Salukis have been their own worst enemies, committing inexplicable turnovers and missing free throws.

Sunday’s loss was a microcosm of the season.

Illinois State got off to a blistering start. The Redbirds hit their first seven shots from the field and scored on their first eight possessions. The Salukis found themselves trailing by a dozen points before either team worked up a good sweat.

SIU chipped away at the lead, but Illinois State bounced back. The Redbirds expanded their advantage to 14 points early in the third quarter before SIU rallied. The Salukis hit a couple of key treys, created some turnovers that led to easy buckets and finally erased the deficit.

Ironically enough, it was a missed free throw that allowed SIU to tie the game.

With 6:38 remaining in the game, Nicole Martin went to the free throw line with the Salukis trailing by three. The junior center made the first free throw, but missed the second. Abby Brockmeyer snared the rebound and scored to tie the game.

The Salukis would build a five-point lead before the missed free throw bugaboo reared its ugly head once more. SIU missed all three free throws it attempted in the final 95 seconds and lost by two points. It is a story that has become all too familiar this year.

SIU is 4-8 in MVC play this year, but has already played front-running Missouri State twice. The Salukis have also played UNI and Drake on the road this season. Drake and UNI have yet to make their return trips to Carbondale, but SIU has the toughest part of its conference season behind it.

The Salukis have the ability to make a late-season run, but the free throw and turnover issues must be addressed to turn the season around.

SIU has three of the league’s rising stars in Martin, point guard Brittney Patrick and shooting guard Makenzie Silvey. Martin and Patrick are juniors while Silvey is a sophomore.

Martin anchors SIU’s inside attack. She is quick. She jumps well. And, this year is doing a much better job of finishing in the paint, shooting at about a 55 percent clip. In addition, she is more confident putting the ball on the floor and driving to the bucket this year.

Patrick runs the point. A solid defender, the junior looks to distribute the ball before shooting. Going into Sunday’s game, Patrick had 110 assists and just 49 turnovers. And, she can shoot, hitting about 35 percent of her 3-point attempts.

Silvey is someone who can score from anywhere on the floor. She has a knack for getting to the rim, and can score from the perimeter. Just a sophomore, she has already cracked the SIU career Top 10 in made 3-pointers.

In addition, Brockmeyer, Kristen Nelson and Payton McCallister can get double figures on any given night. A sophomore, Brockmeyer already has 12 double-doubles in her career.

Watching this team you sense they are close to getting over the hump — it just hasn’t happened yet. They have six more games, four on the road, to prove their point.

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LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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