The Southern Illinois University men's basketball program rolled the dice in Las Vegas this weekend and will head back to Southern Illinois even as the Salukis split the two contests on Friday and Saturday in the Las Vegas Christmas Tournament.
The Vegas trip started with the dealer hitting blackjack against the Salukis (8-5). Southern strolled into Nevada only to suffer an 86-64 defeat against the Wolfpack (11-2).
Southern was fighting an uphill battle before the ball was tipped as the Salukis were missing three of its top six players on the bench with injuries. The game was close during the first few minutes but when Kavion Pippen went to the bench, Nevada went on a 23-point run and the Salukis were basically drawing dead the rest of he night.
On top of some of those missing starters Friday night, point guard Marcus Bartley only played 11 minutes due to a back injury. He has only played in a handful of games so far due to a broken hand early in the season.
However, SIU's fortunes changed Saturday in Vegas as the short-handed Salukis defeated a tough Duquesne squad that had won seven games in a row prior to losing 74-64 to SIU.
Bartley was still out, but SIU's Sean Lloyd picked him up by leading the Dawgs to victory with 19 points and seven rebounds. Hinson was well pleased with his team's effort and especially Lloyd's.
"I challenged Sean and told him 'you're going to be the leader of this ballclub'," Hinson said. "Everybody wants you to be that guy."
SIU got a great effort from stand-ins too.
Aaron Cook picked up Bartley by scoring 12 points and dishing out six assists at point guard. Tyler Smithpeters chipped in nine points, three rebounds and two steals. Starters Armon Fletcher (12 points) and Kavion Pippen (10 points, five rebounds and four blocks) also contributed.
On Tuesday, Dec. 19, SIU also had little trouble against North Carolina A&T 102-64 at SIU Arena before scooting of to Las Vegas for the aforementioned Tournament. Fletcher had 20 points to lead the way in that stomp-fest, but five other Saluki players finished in double figures.
Center Thik Bol will be able to practice by the end of this week. He'll be able to fill in for Pippen when he gets into foul trouble like the game against Nevada.
Now it's off to Cedar Falls, Iowa Saturday for the Missouri Valley Conference opener against Northern Iowa. In the past 17 years in away games at Northern Iowa, SIU is a miserable 1-16. Even when the Salukis were regular players in the Sweet 16, it had troubles in Cedar Falls.
The contest will be tough regardless, but it will be even tougher if Bartley can't go, and if Bol still isn't ready.