Dec. 22, 2008
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois heated up from 3-point range in the second half to break open a close game and beat Western Michigan, 64-46, Monday night.
A year ago, Western held the Salukis (5-6) to the third-worst shooting performance in school history at 27 percent. The Broncos (3-9) tried the same approach at SIU Arena -- taking away Southern's inside game and forcing its guards to make shots. This time, it didn't work.
Kevin Dillard made sure of that. The freshman guard came off the bench to score a career-high 16 points, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range. He was the spark SIU's offense needed, as it made 58 percent of its second-half shots.
"They shoot the ball a lot better from three this year, and the freshmen have a lot to do with it," said Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins. "There are just more perimeter threats out there now than there were last year."
The Salukis trailed, 17-11, midway through the first half, but closed out the half with a 16-5 run. Dillard hit back-to-back threes to cap off the run.
"We tried to take away their inside game first and put pressure on their outside game," Hawkins said. "But then they started hitting those outside shots, and now you've got to worry about the inside and outside."
Saluki head coach Chris Lowery said he placed less emphasis on pounding the ball into the post than in previous games, and thought it was a key factor in the team's 19 assists -- the most SIU has had in its last nine games. Dillard had eight of the assists, while Bryan Mullins added six.
"We wanted to make our bigs be more of screeners, since we've been struggling to finish plays off," Lowery said. "We decided to have our guards make plays for our bigs."
Make plays they did, as Southern went on a 24-4 second-half run to blow the game open. Dillard started the spurt by making back-to-back threes. He also set up Justin Bocot for three baskets during the run.
Dillard made just two turnovers on night, four a 4-to-1 assist to turnover ratio.
"I think the biggest thing with me right now is learning to be patient," Dillard said. "I think Northern (Illinois) was the start, where I tried to cut down on my turnovers. Attack when it's there, but don't force it."
Hawkins said the Salukis are a much different team than the one his squad handled easily in Kalamazoo last year, 57-41.
"One of the things I thought they really improved from last year to this year was their inside play," he said. "As good as Falker was, he got a lot of his stuff on face-up, and we had a lot of success kind of pushing him out of the post last year and then covering down. With the big kids they have now, they take up so much space in there, but they also need an angle to score. We really wanted to keep the basket surrounded and not let them get going from the inside first."
The plan worked early in the game, but once the Salukis found their range from the perimeter, it was all over.
"When they started knocking down the threes, then we had to go out and really get them," he said.
SIU begins conference play on Sunday at Bradley, and Lowery hopes the team's rigorous non-conference schedule has prepared his club for the challenge.
"We're going to keep getting better, and I just keep saying that who we've played is going to help us now," he said.