SIU took the first half against its Division II opponent Rockhurst Saturday to work out the kinks with a new team and two starters (Thik Bol and Marcus Bartley) sitting out with injuries.
Barry Hinson’s Salukis only led 39-36 at the break, but SIU came out like the bigger, more talented team it was expected to be on paper.
“We challenged the team at halftime,” Hinson said. “It wasn’t a Pentecostal tent revival — we weren’t going nuts yelling at them. We just challenged them to answer the bell defensively.”
It’s fair to say the Salukis responded to the halftime adjustments.
Rockhurst jumped out to an 11-2 lead at the first break in the action. The Hawks held that lead until just under the 10-minute mark when Southern’s Sean Lloyd stole a pass and took it the other way for a slam, putting SIU up 28-27.
From then on, the Saluki defense only gave up 40 more points for the rest of the night. The offense waited for the second half to take off.
SIU outshoot the Hawks 63 to 48 percent and outscored Rockhurst 59-32 in the second period.
Saluki center and newcomer Kavion Pippen keyed the first run by starting out the half hitting seven of the first nine points, including two layups and a thunderous dunk on a 19-4 run, making the score 58-40 during the first four minutes after the half.
Pippen and fellow junior college recruit Eric McGill passed the eyeball test. McGill made an impact as a backup point guard for the Dawgs. McGill looked commanding at the point getting the ball to open teammates many times down the floor and playing disruptive defense and scoring 10 points.
SIU’s big victory over Rockhurst was just a warm-up for the season because Friday the Dawgs will start its real campaign against Winthrop at 6 p.m. on Friday.
Winthrop won the Big South Conference Tourney and went to the NCAA Tournament this past season, winning 26 games. However, the Eagles only return on key player from the tournament, but luckily for the Eagles, that one player is Xavier Cooks.
Cooks, a 6’ 8” forward, averaged almost 20 points a contest, while grabbing 13 boards, with 4 assists and almost 3 blocks in conference play last season.
The availability of Austin Weiher will help the thin SIU frontcourt in the absence of Bol. He’s been on the mend the past month due to a bone spur operation, but should add a big body on the glass and could serve as another option from three for the Salukis.