Saluki Men’s Basketball turns up defensive pressure to pull away from Winthrop, 81-66

Saluki guard Sean Lloyd picking up a dunk in last night’s win against Winthorp. ( photo)


By Tom Weber –

ROCK HILL, S.C. — A bigger, stronger Southern Illinois team turned up the defensive pressure on Winthrop in the second half and pulled away for an impressive 81-66 win in the season opener for both schools on Friday night.

The Salukis (1-0) led 46-41 at halftime, but they ramped up the defensive intensity in the final 20 minutes, as the Eagles (0-1) ended up with more second-half turnovers (9) than baskets (7).

Southern had a size advantage at every position, which resulted in a 42-27 win on the boards. It was even more noticeable with the number of deflected passes and steals (11).

“We just got really stagnant and that’s a credit to their defense, their length,” said Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey. “They got out in passing lanes and tried to disrupt us a little bit. We played a little too much one-on-one. We didn’t have a lot of ball reversal and people movement. We got very, very stagnant.”

Two defenders in particular helped turn the tide for Southern — Sean Lloyd and Eric McGill. Between them they had seven steals.

Lloyd had a huge, momentum-changing theft late in the first half. The Salukis were leading, 40-39, and had almost relinquished an 11-point lead, when Lloyd swiped the ball from  Xavier Cooks in the back court and finished with a one-hand jam. The junior guard stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals.

McGill, a junior college transfer, came off the bench and recorded all three of his steals in the second half. Even better, he turned all three steals into buckets of his own. He had 12 points and was 5-of-7 from the field.

“He changed the game in the second half, but he changed the game on the defensive end,” said SIU head coach Barry Hinson. “They couldn’t get around him.”

The game looked like it would be a shoot-out in the first half, as baskets came easily for both clubs. The Salukis pounded the ball inside to 6-foot-10 center Kavion Pippen early, and he had his way against Winthrop’s smallish front line. Playing in his first Division I game, the juco transfer had 12 first-half points and 15 overall. He also had 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Pippen’s offensive put-back with 7:38 to go in the first half stretched SIU’s lead to 31-20.

“He’s an aircraft carrier,” said Kelsey. “He’s pretty agile for a kid his size. He’s a big, strong physical presence.”

The bulk of the minutes for SIU were distributed among seven players, and everyone had a hand in the victory. Junior guard Armon Fletcher showed no ill effects from an injury that kept him out of practice all week, as he scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds. Playing in his first game in more than a year, senior guard Tyler Smithpeters had nine points off the bench.

Jonathan Wiley only scored six points, but he did a solid job defending Cooks — Winthrop’s best player  — holding him to 14 points before fouling out. The Eagles ran much of their half-court offense through Cooks, and the wiry 6-foot-8 forward looked frustrated at times. He finished with seven turnovers.

“I felt like we frustrated him,” Hinson said. “He had to score most of his points off the free throw line. He was certainly a focal point for us.”

The Salukis scored 47 first-half points, the first time they’ve topped 40 in a first half since last year’s non-conference win at SIUE. They also shot 52 percent from the field on the night, including 7-of-17 from downtown, which helped them overcome 18 turnovers.

Winthrop lost three of its top four scorers from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, but Kelsey believed his team would shoot the ball better than it did tonight, especially from the perimeter where the Eagles were 4-of-16.

“They did a good job taking away our 3-point field goals,” Kelsey said. “The adjustments they made at halftime, they really put us in mud on offense. I think it came down to that physical challenge and we didn’t meet that.”

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