The Missouri Valley Conference tournament kicks off today when the Salukis face Indiana State at 6:05 p.m. at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Freshman forward Treg Setty said the team is focused more on playing hard than winning the tournament.
“We need to get morale up a little bit, and go out there and just play hard,” Setty said. “One win against Indiana State would kind of make the season. It would take the black eye, so to speak, off the season.”
SIU (8-22, 5-13 MVC) enters the game as the nine seed, with the Sycamores (17-13, 8-10 MVC) as the eight seed. Indiana State could have been the three seed in the tournament, but a loss to Creighton Saturday knocked the team all the way down into the eight spot.
Coach Chris Lowery said he is optimistic the Salukis can turn the season around with a strong showing in St. Louis.
“It’s a new season, and that’s kind of how we’ve handled it,” Lowery said. “Every year some team wins the conference tournament that shouldn’t do it, so we figured why not us.”
The last time the Salukis faced Indiana State on Feb. 11, the Sycamores dropped 12 3-pointers and set the NCAA record for highest 3-point percentage in a game with more than 10 attempts from beyond the arc (12-of-12), en route to a 78-68 victory.
Junior guard Kendal Brown-Surles said he hasn’t thought much about that game, which was the second loss of the Salukis’ current six-game losing streak.
“They had to play the perfect game to beat us,” Brown-Surles said. “Neither one of us is going to be on somebody’s home court, so we’re more determined this time.”
Lowery said the neutral court of the Scottrade Center should help the team after it went 2-11 on the road this season.
Even though Indiana State won by 10, the Salukis drew to within one with 11 minutes and 26 seconds left in the game after Brown-Surles hit a jumper to make the score 48-47. But Indiana State pulled away with a 10-1 run.
“They didn’t really miss that day,” senior forward Mamadou Seck said. “If you take away some of those 3-pointers, I think we can beat them.”
The Salukis split the season series with the Sycamores, winning their Jan. 13 matchup 73-67. Seck had a game-high 16 points in that contest, and he said SIU has a chance to make a run if it approaches the tournament one game at a time.
“It’s a tournament, and anything can happen,” Seck said.
After dispatching eight-seed Illinois State in the first round of last year’s tournament, SIU had No. 1 Missouri State on the ropes late, but Missouuri State forward Kyle Weems hit a fadeaway jumper with 1.4 seconds left to win the game.
The win against Illinois State was the first win for SIU in the Missouri Valley Tournament since 2007.
Indiana State won the MVC tournament last year as the three seed after beating Missouri State 60-56.
“You would have thought their experience would have left them with a higher finish with who they had coming back with four starters,” Lowery said. “You just don’t know with teams.”
The winner of Thursday’s game will face one seed Wichita State at noon Friday. An eight or nine seed hasn’t beaten a one seed in the current format of the tournament.