Saluki Men’s Basketball hosts first-place Loyola on Senior Night

By Tom Weber,

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois hosts Loyola on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in a key Missouri Valley Conference showdown at SIU Arena. The Ramblers have already clinched at least a share of their first-ever MVC regular-season title. The Salukis, though, could still earn a piece of the title if they win their last two regular-season games and Loyola loses their last two games. SIU has not won a conference title since 2007.

Southern Illinois is 7-3 versus Loyola since the Ramblers joined the league in 2014, including a 3-1 mark at SIU Arena. Loyola head coach Porter Moser is 3-15 lifetime against SIU between his stops at Loyola and Illinois State. SIU G Armon Fletcher is a career 54 percent shooter in six games against Loyola, including 7-of-14 from 3-point.

In the first meeting this season between the teams on Jan. 17 in Chicago, Loyola shot 56 percent from the field, never trailed, and led by double digits the entire second half in a 79-65 win over SIU. Sean Lloyd led Southern with 21 points, but SIU made just 2-of-13 from 3-point range and turned the ball over 20 times. Donte Ingram led Loyola with 25 points.

Harrisburg seinoir Tyler Spmithpeters appearing in his final game at SIU arena.

SIU has won seven-straight home games, its longest home streak since winning nine-straight in 2014. SIU can finish anywhere from 1st to 3rd in the MVC standings. The highest SIU has finished in the last 10 years is 3rd (2008 and 2017). The last time SIU won 11 games in conference play was 2016. The last time it won more than 11 was in 2007 (15).

The team will recognize three senior players during pregame ceremonies — guard Tyler Smithpeters, forward Jonathan Wiley and forward John GardnerBarry Hinson has never lost on Senior Day as a college head coach (16-0).

Head coach Barry Hinson met with the media on Tuesday.

Preview tomorrow’s matchup vs. Loyola.
I think there’s a lot of hot teams in the league right now. We’re certainly one of them, but the hottest team without question is Loyola. They’ve won 12 of their last 13. There’s 13 statistical categories I look at before I go into a game, and they lead nine of those 13 statistical categories against us. What I’m looking for, we’re going to have to really play well, we know that. To be honest, what a great position to be in. We could be in a lot different positions. Our basketball team has put us in a position to possibly share a conference championship, and that was our goal to start the season, regardless of what’s happened to this team, regardless of the adversity we’ve gone through. Until they ship that trophy to Chicago, we’re going to continue to play for it.

How much closer are you to getting to playing your best ball?
I was disappointed — I think we have some individuals who can play much better than what they’re playing. We’ve battled some sickness. I think Kavion (Pippen) will be much healthier going into this game. He’s our leading rebounder and he has one rebound in the last two games. We’ve got to get through that. I am convinced and I know Marcus Bartley can play better than what he played at Indiana State. He’s been in foul trouble the past few games. People are attacking him to get him out of the game. I think when I say our best basketball is ahead of us, I believe that. It’s not coach-speak, it’s not media talk. I don’t think we’ve played our best basketball yet and I believe in what these guys can do.

Pippen has to have a great game to be the offset for what (Cameron) Krutwig can do.
I think he’ll respond well. He always has responded to most of his challenges. I think the reason we haven’t seen the real Kavion is because he had the flu. I’m sorry, it’s a 7-to-14 day period. I had the flu and felt bad for 17 days. Kids are more resilient than we are as adults. I think that has a lot to do with it. I think there’s five key matchups. Can we stop Krutwig and can we stop four guys on the perimeter? That’s going to be a challenge for us. When you have five guys averaging double figures, there’s a chance you’re going to win a lot of ballgames and they’ve won 23 of them.

Is there anything you’ll say to motivate them tomorrow before the game or are they just motivated by themselves?
There won’t be any Knute Rockne speeches tomorrow. This group is a low-key group, they’re not a rah-rah group. No, this is what we’ve come here to do. We’re not going to change anything we do. We’re certainly going to stay the course of what we’ve done all year long. Our goal yesterday was to get better, our goal today is to get better, our goal tomorrow night is to win the ballgame. These guys, I just don’t think they’re going to respond to rah-rah.

What’s it like to see Jonathan Wiley and Tyler Smithpeters go through Senior Night?
I’ve never hidden my emotions on Senior Night. I’ve always told you guys the two most important games of the year you play are the conference championship tournament game and Senior Night. That’s how I’ve always felt. It will be a very emotional night for a lot of people, especially the head coach and his seniors. Tyler Smithpeters has meant so much to this university, to our athletic program and to our region. He comes from a basketball tradition-rich family. This is going to be the last Smithpeters to have an impact for quite some time until I coach Tyler’s sons.

How much do you look back at the last game vs. Loyola versus the recent games?
We do both. These guys beat us worse than anybody in the league. It’s our worst loss in the league. It was a bad game at Loyola, we didn’t play well, and they had a lot to do with it. I go back, when you put us head-up against Loyola, we can’t just have an average game because we’re at home and win, we’re going to have to play our best basketball of the year to beat these guys. This is a team that won at Florida and Florida is a top 20 team. We refer to the past but we focus on the present.

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