Feb. 22, 2012
By Tom Weber
DES MOINES, Iowa - Ben Simons returned from a five-game layoff to score 14 points, sparking Drake to a 78-63 win over Southern Illinois on Wednesday.
The Bulldogs (16-13, 9-8) had lost three of their last five games without their junior forward and leading scorer, who was sidelined with mononucleosis. Drake never trailed in the game, but was leading by just two points, 8-6, when Simons came off the bench with 12 minutes to go in the first half and scored five-straight points.
"He really played extremely well for them," SIU head coach Chris Lowery said. "He bolsters their lineup and allows them to do some different things offensively."
The Salukis (8-21, 5-12) kept the score close until the six-minute mark of the first half. That's when Simons got a dunk on a fast break, starting a 9-0 run for Drake that enabled the Bulldogs to build a 32-18 lead.
Simons said he was only cleared to play on Tuesday and practiced for the first time in three weeks.
"My spleen was too large until yesterday," he explained. "I got some medication that apparently worked, and now I'm just fine. I was nervous. I haven't been nervous for a long time."
It wasn't all Simons for Drake, which shot 56 percent from the field compared to 34 percent by Southern Illinois. The Bulldogs also had double-digit scoring efforts from Rayvonte Rice (19), Jeremy Jeffers (11) and Kurt Alexander (11).
"We just couldn't keep them out of the paint," Lowery said. "We tried zone, we tried a bunch of different looks, and not being able to contain the bounce was the number one problem."
Southern's defense has headed south in the last two weeks, as teams have repeatedly beaten defenders off the dribble. The end result has often been a foul -- Drake shot 37 free throws, or a wide-open 3-pointer -- Drake was 5-for-9 from three. Lowery said enough is enough.
"It's about manning-up and a personal pride about guarding someone," he said. "We're looking for effort, energy and enthusiasm. With those things, you don't have to be talented to have them."
The Bulldogs led by double figures the entire second half, but the play of Mamadou Seck and Jeff Early prevented the game from getting completely out of hand. Seck had his ninth double-double of the season with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Early had 18 points and nine boards.
"Those were the only two guys with the amount of energy it takes to win a game," Lowery said. "I thought we were really lethargic at the other spots."
The Salukis tried their 15th different starting lineup of the season with Early and T.J. Lindsay at the guards, and Seck, Dantiel Daniels and Treg Setty at the forwards. No guard has been able to lock down the point for very long.
"The point guard position has been a struggle for us all season," Lowery lamented. "We're kind of playing it by committee. That's the head of the team, and if you're still trying to figure that out this late in the game, that's a problem."
The new lineup struggled, as Setty picked up two quick fouls and was not a factor in the game, and Daniels left midway through the first half with a knee injury. The team's second-leading scorer and rebounder did not return.
Offensively, Southern had its worst perimeter shooting performance of the season, going 1-for-15 from beyond the 3-point line.
"We're not a good 3-point shooting team, so we don't need to shoot that many," Lowery noted.
SIU, which will be the No. 9 seed in next week's State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, set a school record for losses in a season, surpassing the 1981 and 1986 squads that lost 20. Despite being in the midst of a season-long five-game losing streak, Lowery said his team still has a reason to soldier on. The Salukis finish the regular season on Saturday at home against Northern Iowa.
"We have Senior Night, we still have the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament," he said. "Those are the things we have to focus on."