"The Week from Hell" was what the Southern Illinois radio announcers were calling it as Drew, my friend and SIU alumnus, and I made the drive into Carbondale. In the seven days that made up the third full week of January, the Salukis suffered a solid McDermott-ing (Doug with 25 points and 11 rebounds) in a 19-point loss at Creighton, followed three days later by a neck-and-neck 72-65 overtime loss to Drake at SIU Arena, a game where no team led by more than four in regulation. But those losses couldn't possibly compare to what happened Saturday in Wichita.
The worst loss in school history, Wichita State went dubl-up plus one on the Salukis. Every Shocker scored at least three points, and four scored in double figures.
The "Week" started just two days after I received this text from Drew.
As Co-800GP'er Stephen Smith discussed, the goal of every Missouri Valley team is to be off on Thursday, the first day of the MVC tournament in St. Louis. The reasoning is obvious: it's immensely easier to win three games in three days than to win four in four, and that's the difference in the path to a NCAA bid between the 6th and 7th place finisher in the MVC.
And in the current Missouri Valley, where the difference between 3rd (four teams tied at 5-5) and 9th (Indiana State at 3-7) is two games, those bottom four spots are far from determined.
Southern Illinois looked to begin the second half of their season as a Dante-esque journey, fighting its way through Hell and hoping to avoid the purgatory of Arch Madness Thursday on the way to Paradise. It started with a home game against 10th-place Bradley, whose destiny seems set to include the Thursday games with only one Valley win.
The Salukis started this journey on the right foot, jumping out to a 13-2 lead helped by the interior play from frosh Dantiel Daniels. Bradley slowly gained their bearings and, thanks to the always well-bespectacled Taylor Brown, proceeded to cut the Saluki lead to just four at 21-17 with six minutes until halftime.
Then SIU coach Chris Lowery made what has become a rare decision and plugged in senior Justin Bocot. After starting the first five games of the season, Bocot served a suspension of four games during what Lowery described as "the early stages of a police investigation involving Justin." The investigation did not result in charges, and Bocot was reinstated in time for the Salukis' trip to the Diamond Head Classic, where he started in the consolation semifinal game against Clemson. But, Bocot missed two key shots down the stretch (one leading to a fast-break dunk) as the Salukis blew an eight-point lead to send the game to overtime. Bocot's misgivings continued in the extra period, when he missed a potentially game-tying three-pointer, then committed a foul converted into two good Tiger free throws. Those freebies sealed up the Clemson win and prevented a Red-Line Upset.
Bocot has not started a game since and has averaged just shy of 12 minutes per game in Missouri Valley play. Drew and other Saluki fans have said how difficult it is to get out of Lowery's doghouse once a player has found their way into it. Some have also attributed many of the Salukis' player defections in the last four seasons to this.
Nevertheless, this was Bocot's opportunity to hopefully re-establish some esteem in his coach's mind and he took full advantage of it. Over the next three minutes, Bocot nailed three superhoops and sparked SIU to outscore Bradley 16-7 over the last six minutes of the first half. Drew called it some of the best basketball he's seen Southern play this season and the crowd at SIU Arena acknowledged it with a standing ovation as the teams went into their locker rooms.
The Salukis emerged with nearly four minutes remaining on the halftime clock and casually shot at their basket. Bradley's coach Geno Ford must have had much more to say to his team, as the Braves made their way out their locker room with just 45 seconds of the 15 minutes given for halftime remaining. It was just enough time for a huddle in front of the bench and taking the court for the start of the second half.
Ford's motivation had a brief effect, as the Braves scored on their first four possessions. All their effort had little effect on the Salukis leading margin, though, as it held in double digits for the rest of the second half.
Bocot scored two more points on free throws, but came up with two important steals to quell Bradley's mini-rally at the start of the second half. He finished with 11 points, the most he's scored in MVC play this season, and 20 minutes, the second-highest amount of time he's played during the Valley schedule.
The game notes for the Salukis' next game describe Bocot as "showing signs of breaking out of a January slump." Southern Illinois will need their senior guard to do just that, a slump not just in shooting but in whatever it is holding him and the rest of the Salukis back, to keep them out of the dreaded Thursday slots and make Drew's bold prediction correct.
at SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 77, BRADLEY 60 01/24/2012
BRADLEY 6-16 (1-9) -- T. Brown 8-14 4-4 21; D. Simms-Edwards 3-10 6-9 13; W. Lemon Jr 2-8 0-3 4; J. Prosser 3-6 2-4 8; J. Eastman 2-8 3-3 7; S. Shayok 2-5 2-6 7; C. Woods 0-3 0-0 0; J. Crawford 0-1 0-0 0; A. Thompson 0-0 0-0 0; M. Knezevic 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-55 17-29 60. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 7-14 (4-6) -- M. Seck 6-7 3-3 15; D. Daniels 4-7 7-10 15; T. Lindsay 2-6 1-3 5; K. Brown-Surles 2-5 0-0 5; J. Bocot 3-7 2-4 11; D. Taylor 3-5 1-2 8; J. Early 4-5 2-4 10; K. Goff 0-0 0-0 0; D. Drinkard 2-2 0-0 4; T. Setty 1-2 0-0 2; J. Swan 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 28-47 16-26 77.
Three-point goals: BRAD 3-18 (T. Brown 1-4; J. Eastman 0-3; C. Woods 0-2; D. Simms-Edwards 1-4; W. Lemon 0-3; J. Crawford 0-1; S. Shayok 1-1), SIU 5-13 (J. Bocot 3-5; K. Brown-Surles 1-4; D. Taylor 1-2; T. Lindsay 0-1; T. Setty 0-1); Rebounds: BRAD 28 (J. Eastman 8), SIU 35 (D. Daniels 10); Assists: BRAD 7 (D. Simms-Edwards 3), SIU 17 (M. Seck 4); Total Fouls -- BRAD 20, SIU 24; Fouled Out: BRAD-None; SIU-None.