February 21, 2013
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - A key turning point in this season for the Southern Illinois University men's basketball team took place in head coach Barry Hinson's office on Monday, Feb. 4 -- two days after the team's humbling 36-point loss at Illinois State dropped the Salukis' record to 1-11 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Hinson met with seniors Jeff Early, Kendal Brown-Surles and T.J. Lindsay and told them the rest of the season would be dedicated to them. More than that, he said he would relinquish some personal control of the team into their hands.
"Coach sat us down and said he would give us the freedom to control the team," Lindsay recalled. "He said, if anything goes wrong, he'd step in, but he basically gave us the freedom to take over the team."
The veteran trio emerged from the meeting with a renewed sense of ownership in the program. They policed teammates to make sure everyone was on time and giving maximum effort.
"We were ready," Lindsay said. "We dedicated ourselves to go work hard in every practice and come into games with a different mindset -- let's turn it around."
The positive results were almost instantaneous. SIU won its next game over No. 22 Wichita State and has won three of its last five since the pivotal meeting.
T.J. Lindsay is 9-for-20 from 3-point range in the last seven games.
One of the promises Hinson made to the seniors was to start all three of them for the remaining games. While Early and Brown-Surles had already been starting, Lindsay had lost his starting job to freshman Anthony Beane in November. He was anxious to return.
The plan was working.
"That's why we smack the wall on our way out to practice and games -- the Rick Warren sign -- It's Not About You," Lindsay explained. "We're trying to make sacrifices, go out every night and get your teammate a shot, instead of trying to get your own shot. We've been focusing on playing as a team and a cohesive unit."
Another reason for the turnaround, according to Lindsay, is due to a stronger emphasis on defense. Southern is one of the smallest teams in the league, and the coaching staff realized the Salukis were allowing the ball to get into the post too easily.
"Watching film, we noticed our biggest weakness was ball pressure," the 6-foot-2 senior explained. "We have to pressure the ball handler and make that entry pass difficult. We have to use our speed so they can't use their size. Make it a strength instead of a weakness."
Since giving up 83 points to the Redbirds, SIU has not allowed an opponent to score more than 66 points in a game.
Offensively, Lindsay has emerged as the team's top 3-point shooting threat. In the last seven games, he's made 9-of-20 with his patented high-arching 3-ball.
"When I came to junior college, my shot was really flat and my coach was always telling me to put more arc on it," Lindsay recalled. "Coach Hinson told me he has confidence in me to make the shots, and if I get an open shot, take it. That means everything to a shooter."
A sports management major, who hopes to open a sports bar when his playing days end, Lindsay is hitting 38 percent from downtown on the season and 36 percent in his two-year career at Southern.
"I'm at the point where if I miss one or two shots, I'm going to keep shooting, regardless," he said. "I have that much confidence in myself that I can make the shot."
Although the Salukis are likely headed to Arch Madness as the No. 10 seed, Lindsay said the team is poised to pull off an upset or two.
"We're playing free and have nothing to lose no matter who we play," he said. "I love this team -- my guys, the coaching staff. We spend so much time together and we're getting closer and closer every day. No matter what happens, I wouldn't trade these memories for anything. I'm happy to be a Saluki every day. I'm not playing for myself, I'm playing for this program and this tradition. I won't have any regrets, because I gave it my all. My teammates and I went out and fought hard to win games."