SIU fans have seen this storyline before: "SIU has two starters out in key home opener." But the end of the basketball drama was a bit different this time.
Last season, SIU was upset in two different ways by the Drake Bulldogs. First, before that home contest, the SIU players found out that shotblocker supreme Thik Bol was hurt and could not play in the game. That news "upset" the Saluki players greatly.
The Dawgs went on to be upset on the court in that one 70-67. But Wednesday's game with Missouri State reversed that trend. In Wednesday's game, SIU again learned that Bol had been hurt, but this time they rallied somehow to clip the Bears by five (75-70).
"Last year we lost a game after the bad news," Saluki coach Barry Hinson said. "But we responded positively in this one."
Bol's absence was not the only negative that may have bothered the roster-depleted Dawgs. Sean Lloyd was in early foul trouble (two in the first five minutes), and Kavion Pippen, SIU's 6-foot-10 center, actually fouled out in the last few minutes.
Oh, and the big Saluki in the room -- or rather missing from the Arena floor -- was the dressed, but not playing, Armon Fletcher. The All-Conference guard has sat out five games for breaking team rules and probably will miss tomorrow's 7 p.m. away game with University of Northern Iowa, too.
That's 14 points and six rebounds missing. But SIU's remaining roster players again responded with masterful performances.
Before he fouled out, Pippen scored 23 points and was a handful for the Bear frontliners.
Pippen also had seven rebounds and a blocked shot.
Fletcher's smaller replacement in the starting line-up, Eric McGill, had another double-double (14 points and 12 rebounds) as he played a front-line position at just 6-foot-2. But he wasn't the only Saluki player forced to play out of place.
"Our usual starting point guard, Marcus Bartley, needed to play some at the four spot (PF)," Hinson said. "He responded well." Bartley also still led the Dawgs in assists (five) even playing out of his usual position.
The game was nip and tuck all of the second half. SIU had built a 39-31 halftime lead only to see the game narrowed to one-possession leads eight separate times in the last 20 minutes.
Once the goat of the game with his four turnovers, Aaron Cook ended up hitting six of eight free throws (and a key three-pointer) down the stretch to seal the win for SIU.
Cook was nonplussed at his propensity to turn the ball over, but he probably finally realizes that the game would not have been won without him in the game.
"In the game" he was. Cook played an amazing 39 of the-40 minute contest. The other hero (besides Pippen, Cook and McGill) was Sean Lloyd.
Lloyd, like Pippen, was in foul trouble early. Nevertheless, he scored 10 of his 11 game points in the second half and gave the offense a big boost when Pippen was hampered by fouls in the second half.
Tomorrow's contest with UNI starts at 7 p.m. It can be viewed on ESPN+.