By Jeremy Sneed
The Saluki mens basketball team opened up its season Monday with an exhibition game against the Maryville Saints. The game started out slow offensively for both teams but SIU ended up winning easily with a final score of 106-73. Leading the way on offense for the Salukis was Sean O’Brien who scored 17 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, and Tyler Smithpeters who scored 12 points and had 6 assists to go with. The Salukis did a great job tonight sharing the basketball, taking smart shots and hitting those smart shots. The main thing they need to work on is free throws.
“I am tired of finishing last in the Valley in assists,” coach Barry Hinson said. ” I told our coaches if you cannot pass, dribble or shoot, they are not coming to Southern Illinois University.”
These were strong statements made by Hinson when asked about his team’s smart shot selection in tonight’s game. I really like that the fact that Hinson addressed an important factor in the offseason. He had to fill five spots from last year’s team and I think it is very important to have players who are good passers because they will set up better scoring opportunities on offense, and that’s what happened tonight. Newcomers Mike Rodriguez and Leo Vincent did a great job of spacing the floor out through excellent dribbling and passing, two of the three aspects Hinson focused on. With the excellent passing and ball handling, this led to spectacular shooting displays from Jeremy Postell (4-6 from the field), Sean O’Brien (6-7), and Tyler Smithpeters (4-6). The Salukis as a team shot 63.3% from the field and had a total of 23 assists.
On the other hand, while the Salukis played an overall great game the one thing they could improve on is hitting free throws, while Maryville needed help guarding the low-post and hitting their shots on offense. Starting off SIU shot just 65.6% from the free throw line. Against a team like Maryville they can get away with that, but the Salukis are really going to need to become more consistent from the stripe if they want to be contenders this season. I personally believe free throw shooting is an under looked statistic in basketball – it can separate playoff teams from non-contenders. If the Salukis can become more consistent from the free throw line, they could be a contender this year in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Maryville struggled offensively, taking 62 shots while only making 27 of them. There is a lot of room for improvement with the Saints. They spaced the ball out very well with good screens and nice passes. They clearly had plenty of scoring opportunities, taking 62 shots; they just need to hit more than 27 of them in the future. They have potential with players like Marvin Grant-Clark and Clark Sims running the team. If the Saints want to win games and be competitive this season, they need to take advantage of all their scoring opportunities.
The Salukis are going to have a tough time playing against Wichita State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa this season. They will be facing another tough opponent Friday night in their official season opener against Air Force.
Coach Hinson said he scheduled this game against Maryille to prepare them for Air force.
“There’s no coach in America that’s saying I wanna guard the Princeton system the first game,” he said. “But we did it to hopefully help us with Air Force.”
Considering how easily the Salukis handled the Princeton system with Maryville, I think the they should have an easy time against Air Force and hopefully can start out the season strong with a win. They will open their season at 7 p.m. Friday in SIU Arena.