Evansville hosted Southern Illinois tonight, opening conference play in The Valley while renewing a rivalry that spans decades. The Purple Aces and Salukis have quite a history against one another, especially in Evansville. Still almost five decades later, you can hear stories of the battles between these two schools in the 1964-65 season. A pair of NBA greats led each squad, Jerry Sloan for Evansville, Walt Frazier for Southern Illinois. They played three games that season, decided by a grand total of five points. Evansville won each regular-season game by a single point, and as the legend has it, in both games the ball was on the rim as the final horn expired with a single bounce determining each game. Then they faced each other in the postseason in the College Division title game held in Evansville at the old Roberts Stadium where UE captured their 4th title, capping off an undefeated season in overtime, 85-82.
Today, it's a much different feel as these two squads match up. The Salukis do not seem to be of the same mode of the teams of the mid 2000s who were a constant in the NCAA Tournament. "Floorburn U," as they were known, you could count on SIU to outwork, outhustle, outdefend, and outrebound everyone they played, and in many cases out-talent you as well. This reputation put SIU on the map over the last few years, as it was made known of the drill where they pushed everything as far away from the floor as possible and rolled out a ball and threw out the rules. No fouls, no out of bounds, no nothing except a ball and some serious physicality. As for Evansville, they are trying to find their way at 5-5, with four of those games being decided by a single possession. In addition, they have a renewed sense of expectations after finishing at 9-9 last season in conference play.
It was apparent early as to what SIU was trying to do. Early and often, they looked inside to exploit the young freshman post players on the floor for UE. On the other end of the floor, UE looked to use the motion offense to get good looks via screens, as well as spreading the floor for drives to the basket. The story of the first half can be summed up quite easily in a couple of statistics. SIU turned the ball over 13 times on an array of poor passes that led to some fast-break chances for the Aces. Those turnovers, some forced by good UE defense while others can be chalked up to just poor play by the Salukis led to 17 fast-break points. In addition, UE was able to get to the foul line all half long, taking 18 attempts in the first 20 minutes alone as they raced out to a 48-27 advantage.
The second half showed a slight bit of promise for SIU. They decided to pick up full-court and trap, forcing UE into turnovers that often led to a fast-break score for the Salukis. For the first time all game, SIU looked together and interested. Head coach Chris Lowery rarely kept his team in the huddle during the length of the entire timeout, and they came out of the locker room at half down 21 as the halftime entertainment was leaving the floor with some 6:30 left in the break. The full-court press seemed to get SIU going, and got the lead down to 13 with around 5:00 to play. In addition to forcing some turnovers, it led to UE struggling to get into the offense which forced some tough shots. With the shot clock running down, UE's Colt Ryan, who led all scorers with 25, had to force a three over a bigger defender, yet it found all net as the shot clock expired. Even though at no time did it feel SIU had a chance to come all the way back, that shot seemed to be the dagger to seal the fate.
Evansville went on to win it 78-60. Many would say that they did simply what they were supposed to do, beating a team picked below them in the preseason on their home floor. Yet as we saw the night before, as Valley play opened with Missouri State going to #19 Creighton and winning by 12, as well as Drake knocking off Indiana State by double digits, nothing can ever be assumed in conference play, and therein lies the beauty of it all. With the familiarity of conference play, all those good feelings of rooting for your league goes out the window as our friends quickly become our enemies for the next two months until we can all come together as one in St. Louis in early March for four days for another fresh start.
at EVANSVILLE 78, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 60 12/29/2011
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 3-9 (0-1) -- M. Seck 9-13 2-2 20; T. Lindsay 3-10 1-2 8; K. Brown-Surles 3-7 6-6 13; J. Swan 1-4 0-2 2; D. Daniels 3-3 0-0 6; D. Drinkard 0-2 0-2 0; J. Early 2-9 1-2 5; T. Setty 1-2 0-0 2; J. Bocot 0-4 2-2 2; D. Taylor 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 23-56 12-18 60. EVANSVILLE 6-5 (1-0) -- C. Ryan 6-14 10-11 25; K. Harris 4-11 3-8 11; D. Holmes 4-6 2-2 11; T. Taylor 2-3 4-6 8; L. Jones 3-4 2-2 8; N. Cox 2-6 4-4 8; R. Sawvell 1-1 0-2 2; J. Moore 2-2 1-2 5; J. Nelson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-47 26-37 78.
Three-point goals: SIU 2-15 (J. Bocot 0-2; K. Brown-Surles 1-3; D. Taylor 0-1; J. Early 0-2; T. Lindsay 1-5; T. Setty 0-1; J. Swan 0-1), EVAN 4-9 (D. Holmes 1-3; C. Ryan 3-5; N. Cox 0-1); Rebounds: SIU 32 (M. Seck 8), EVAN 25 (K. Harris 8); Assists: SIU 11 (M. Seck 3), EVAN 10 (D. Holmes 3); Total Fouls -- SIU 27, EVAN 17; Fouled Out: SIU-M. Seck; EVAN-None.