Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery kept going back to his team’s defense on J.T. Durley, Clevin Hannah and Toure Murry.“We stopped everybody we needed to,” he said.Most nights, that would be true. The Shockers should be losers when those three are held below double digits. WSU won 55-54, thanks to Graham Hatch and Garrett Stutz and some good defense. That’s the mark of a contender – SIU took away the Shocker strengths on offense and the Shockers won on the road. While Hannah and Murry didn’t score like we’re accustomed to, they played a role in limiting SIU leading scorers Kevin Dillard and Tony Freeman. Dillard didn’t make a three-pointer and scored 10 points. Freeman went 2 of 7 from three and finished with 12 points.
We knew Hatch (13 points) and Stutz (12) were capable. It was the way Hatch did it that was significant – one three-pointer. He made the Salukis look bad by cutting to get free for layups. Stutz looked like he did in November and December when he scored in double figures in four straight games. He looked bouncier and more active than in recent games. Six offensive rebounds is a superb number. With 44 this season, he is second on the team behind Gabe Blair’s 45.
If you were making a wish list of players that could make a big difference sparking the Shockers in February, Stutz might top that list. He’s been giving WSU around 10 minutes a game in conference play, with inconsistent production. If he could resume his non-conference production, the Shockers are in much stronger shape.
Stutz strained his left knee on Jan. 8. He said it bothered him for a few games, but it wasn’t an excuse for his recent play.“For a little while it was, but there’s a couple games where I can’t blame the knee,” he said. “I just played bad. It’s doing much better.”Stutz’s numbers didn’t show it, but he looked more active in Wednesday’s game against Illinois State. During MVC play, he battled the knee and foul troubles (he’s had three or more fouls in eight of the 11 MVC games). So it’s easy to see where he had trouble getting in a comfort zone. Perhaps these last two games are an indication he is ready to take another step forward.