ST. LOUIS — It may not have been pretty, but Saint Louis did just enough to get past a stingy Southern Illinois squad 61-51 Saturday night at Chaifetz Arena.
Dwayne Evans scored 14 and grabbed 6 rebounds to lead a balanced Billikens’ offensive attack past an undersized and depleted Saluki lineup.
Rob Loe was a perfect three-for-three from beyond the arc en route to 12 points while Cody Ellis and Mike McCall Jr. each scored nine for the Billikens (3-2), who shot 51.2 percent (22 of 43) from the floor.
“They are an interesting ball club because they are very unique,” First year Saluki head coach Barry Hinson said following the game. “Their guards are more comfortable inside the arc and their bigs are more comfortable outside the arc.”
Saint Louis made an obvious effort to attack the Salukis in the paint from the start, as no starter from Southern Illinois was over 6-foot-5. But it was the outside shooting that eventually propelled the Billikens.
Southern Illinois was given the opportunity to stick around for the majority of the game in large part to a dominant performance on the offensive glass, where they held an 18 to 5 advantage.
“I told our guys the last couple of days,” Saint Louis head coach Jim Crews said. “The hardest guys to block out are teams like this. And I don’t want to be a prophet, but they killed us on the offensive boards. Absolutely annihilated us.”
“We’re small, but we are pesky,” said first year Saluki coach Barry Hinson before adding a more legitimate answer to why there was such an obvious disparity.
“You can really be good on the offensive boards when you shoot 24.2 percent because there is a lot of opportunities to get rebounds.”
As pesky as Southern Illinois might have been, the Billikens did little fundamentally to counteract the relentless Salukis on the boards. SIU tallied a 36-28 advantage on the glass for the game.
“We didn’t block out,” Crews said. “We did it about as wrong as you could get it. We were consistently wrong.”
Despite the poor rebounding effort, Saint Louis still managed to limit the Salukies to just 24.2% shooting in the first half on 8-33 shooting. It was the Billikens best defensive half of the young season.
The Salukis came out in the second half and attacked the Billikens at the basket. Despite their height disadvantage, Southern Illinois converted on it’s first six of seven possessions to force Saint Louis head coach Jim Crews into an early timeout.
A 3-pointer by Kendal Brown-Surles pulled the Salukies within five at 33-28, but back-to-back three’s from SLU’s Rob Loe helped push the SLU lead to 39-30 and the Billikens never looked back.
Jeff Early scored 15 points,Dantiel Daniels 12 and Desmar Jackson 10 for the Salukies (3-1).
Southern Illinois used a variety of defenses in an attempted to get the Billikens out of their traditional ball screen offense. It worked at times, as Saint Louis looked lost during patches, but eventually SLU was able to figure it out.
“They were changing defenses because of personnel,” Crews said. “And we had our moments where we were decent and moments where we weren’t very good.”
Jordair Jett came off the bench for the first time this season after apparently injuring his groin in the previous game against Kansas. SLU never made the injury official and Jim Crews gave little insight to the specifics, but it was clear Jett was not 100%.
Southern Illinois played without forward Antonio Breyer, who was one of three players ejected for committing a flagrant foul during an altercation on the floor against SIU Edwardsville on Tuesday. The Missouri Valley Conference reviewed the incident and cleared Breyer to play, but SIU still elected to sit him for one game.