The Saluki men’s basketball team has protected its home court well this season and continued the trend as they staved the University of Northern Iowa 74-68 during SIU’s senior night Wednesday at SIU Arena.
“I’ve always made a big deal about Senior Night,” Coach Barry Hinson said. “This was my 12th Senior Night as a head coach, and I’ve never had a team get beat on Senior Night.”
The Salukis (13-16, 5-12 Missouri Valley Conference) extend their home winning streak to five games and are playing their season’s best basketball as the MVC conference tournament approaches. The Kendal Brown-Surles, Jeff Early and T.J. Lindsay senior-guard tio largely contributed to the Salukis’ success on a night dedicated to them.
Brown-Surles said it was up to the seniors to make sure the team played well.
“You never let anyone come in your house and do what they want,” he said. “Especially not tonight.”
Early’s high-energy play and activity on both ends of the floor was evident as he accounted for three of SIU’s 11 steals and 14 of his team’s points. He appeared to either deflect a pass or jar the ball loose from an opponent’s hand all night. Early’s quickness helped lead SIU to 17 points off turnovers, which is the most the Saluki’s have posted in their last four games. The hybrid guard also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and dished two assists without any turnovers.
Brown-Surles posted two assists and led the Salukis’ potent first-half perimeter attack. SIU shot 50 percent both from the field and beyond the 3-point line within the game’s first 20 minutes. The four-year point guard went 2-3 from the free-throw line and came down with a big interior rebound in a pivotal moment during the game’s closing minutes.
Hinson said Brown-Surles’ ball-protecting deficiency was understandable given the game’s gravity.
“He turned the ball over about five times,” he said. “I’ve never really had a senior play great on Senior Night … It was some balls that just seemed to fall out of his hands.”
Neither of the two seniors played a career night, but Hinson said he expressed how much they have developed after the game.
“I’ve always written my three seniors a note and put it on their chair for the last home game,” Hinson said. “Basically, I told them I’m proud of them and how they’ve grown as young men this year.”
Junior guard Desmar Jackson led the team’s scorers with 18 points in his 34 playing minutes Jackson posted 14 points by half time, but he cooled down in the second half as the Salukis drained time off the clock. He was a perfect 4-4 from the free-throw line, and he connected on two 3-pointers. The Wyoming transfer was also the team’s second leading rebounder with seven boards.
Defensively, SIU clamped down on the Panther’s perimeter scorers. UNI (17-13, 10-7) shot 37 percent from the field on the night and made just 8-32 from beyond the arc. The Salukis also forced the Panthers into 16 turnovers while committing just seven themselves.
Early said the key to the team’s improved play is the players’ increased self-awareness.
“Everyone is starting to know their roles,” he said. “We’re starting to become more comfortable in those roles.”