The men’s basketball team tips off its first home regular season game tonight against Fresno State at the SIU Arena.
The Salukis are 3-1 as they head into the contest, and they are ranked 19th nationwide in shooting percentage. The team has already eclipsed the century mark for points once this season, and it has seen production from both its starters and bench.
Although the season is only four games in, senior guard Jeff Early has had a remarkable one so far. The Salukis’ leading scorer averages almost 19 points per game, which is more than 10 points higher than last season. Early said he was hesitant about playing the hybrid position — a combination of a guard and forward — but he excels in the role now. Early has the most steals on the team, holds the highest field goal percentage of the Saluki guards and has the highest rebound-per-game average with 8.8.
“Coming into the season, my main priority was to do whatever it takes to get (our) team more wins,” he said. “I’ve been helping out on the rebounding end until Dantiel (Daniels) is 100 percent, and my role may change when he is out there and fully healthy.”
Wyoming transfer, Desmar Jackson, was pegged as the Saluki offense’s focal point during the off-season, but that has not been the case yet. Although he is the team’s second leading scorer, Jackson averages 10.8 points per game on just 37 percent shooting from the field. Despite his offensive struggles, the junior guard is providing a boost in the rebound department with 6.8 per game this season. Jackson said he is not playing as well as he was at Wyoming, after he sat out for a year, but he is up for the challenge.
“I still have some things I need to work on,” he said. “But I’m a 6-foot-6 guard, and I still have an advantage against the 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2 guards I usually play.”
Sophomore forward, Dantiel Daniels, has provided a much-needed post presence since he returned from a groin injury two weeks ago. Daniels has added almost 10 points a game and holds a 70-percent field goal percentage for a Saluki team that lacks interior scoring. Although he is averaging only two rebounds a game, the sophomore said his production will improve once he gets used to being out on the court.
“I have been struggling lately with rebounds,” he said. “I think some of it comes from playing time and foul trouble. I think once I get back in my zone, I’ll be OK.”
In the loss against St. Louis University Saturday, coach Barry Hinson said his team missed about 15 layups. He said the guards have to feed the ball inside to post more and get the offense going.
“Kendall has done everything we asked of him offensively,” Hinson said. “I need him to be more like Payton Manning.”
After a night of poor perimeter defense in St. Louis, Hinson said junior guards Allen Huddleston, Kevin Olekaibe and senior forward Kevin Foster will all be priorities because of their scoring abilities.
“Those guys have beyond NBA range,” Hinson said. “They can pull up from 30-35 feet and shoot with ease.”
However, the team’s ball skills aren’t the only thing it needs for a success tonight. Hinson said the team will need the crowd’s support to win the game.
“This is a team that beat Cal Poly (and) defeated a ranked UCLA team,” he said. “We need the arena to be packed and loud to give us an extra boost.”