Southern Illinois remains short on size and experience, just like last season. Just like last season, coach Barry Hinson is finding a way to win.
For a second straight season, he sifted through a flawed basketball roster and rigged a way to make the Salukis a tough out in February. He inherited a mess, with a short-handed roster, academic issues and little size, and is upgrading the talent steadily.
Last season, Hinson’s first after taking over for Chris Lowery, the Salukis went small late in the season and finished with a 6-2 run that included an upset of Wichita State in SIU Arena. The Salukis may be on a similar path after Tuesday’s 74-58 win at Drake. They have won three straight, a streak that started with a 79-60 rout of second-place Indiana State.
“We're winning the rebounding battle, we're shooting the ball much better, we're distributing the ball much better, we're more unselfish,” Hinson told reporters after winning at Drake. “"I thought for 36 minutes, that's as good as we can get. That's genie in a bottle stuff."
Sophomore guard Anthony Beane is the spark. An injury to point guard Marcus Fillyaw, likely out for the season with a broken hand, forced Hinson to move Beane to point. Running the offense is giving Beane a better understanding of good shots. In the past three games, Beane scored 22, 27 and 20 points and made 22 of 39 shots.
For the season, he is making 38.1 percent of his threes, up from 31.3 as a freshman.
With Beane scoring more (he averaged 12.1 points entering the Indiana State game), senior guard Desmar Jackson isn’t SIU’s lone scoring option. He scored 16, 20 and 24 the past three games, making 19 of 36 shots. Playing at the top of SIU’s 2-3 zone, he picked off six steals against Loyola and Drake.
Three freshmen, two recent additions, complete the lineup. Most important, they are content to play their roles and make few mistakes. Forward Bola Olaniyan, who has started four games, is a fierce rebounder who grabbed 12 against Indiana State and 14 against Loyola. Forward Sean O’Brien averages 7.4 points and 5.8 rebounds. Guard Tyler Smithpeters, also new to the starting lineup, is making 36.4 percent of his threes. He scored 16 points in his first start, a loss to Missouri State on Jan. 25.
The Salukis have a chance to move out of the muddled middle of the MVC and make a run at third. The new lineup will get a tough test when it faces Missouri State on Saturday and then travels to Wichita State (Feb. 11) and Indiana State (Feb. 15).
Fast breaks• No. 4 Wichita State plays at Northern Iowa on Saturday. The Panthers will be without one of their top reserves due to injury. Forward Nate Buss had surgery a week ago to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and will miss two more weeks.
• Loyola’s women‘s team will make its first visit to Koch Arena as a conference opponent at 2 p.m. Sunday. The Ramblers (9-12, 5-4 MVC) have a chance to finish in the top half of the conference with senior forward Troy Hambric leading the way. She averaged 26 points in two games last week, scoring 22 against Illinois State and a career-high 30 in a 71-58 win over second-place Indiana State. WSU (18-2, 9-0) won the first meeting 71-58 and Hambric scored 21 points.
• Entering Wednesday’s game against Missouri State, Evansville guard D.J. Balentine was the nation’s top scorer among sophomores with 532 points and a 23.1 average.
• Bradley’s Omari Grier and Auston Barnes are warming up from outside the arc. The duo combined to make 41.3 percent of their threes, 3.3 a game, over the past eight games. Before that, they shot 27.9 percent in 15 games, making 2.4 a game.
One to watch
Bradley at Loyola, 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN3.com) — The Braves are 1-22 in MVC road games in coach Geno Ford’s three seasons. That is a bad look for a program that should be pushing toward the top of the Valley. This is their best chance to get a road win this season.
In their words
“He is at the top of everyone's scouting report. He can still be at the top of everyone’s scouting report, but he is still going to manage a way to make his team better, score the ball, he's doing a great job with assists, he makes his free throws.” — Missouri State coach Paul Lusk on Evansville’s Balentine.