Home from a decent road trip, the Southern Illinois Salukis face division leader Northern Iowa Panthers tonight in Carbondale. The Salukis rallied to beat Bradley, 86-81, on Friday, before falling to Illinois State, 68-61 on Sunday.
Road issues haunted the Salukis last year but this year's squad seems more equipped to handle the pressures of the road games in the MVC.
Despite a less than stellar second-half against the Redbirds, Southern Illinois is right in the thick of the conference race, which will be an interesting battle all year long. Kevin Dillard continues to improve but needs to cut down on the turnovers. Justin Bocot and Tony Freeman are solid, while Anthony Booker, who scored 8 and had 10 boards against Illinois State, shows signs of becoming a dominant defensive player.
A consistent offense will be the key tonight. The team has enough offensive weapons to compete with the Panthers, but do they have enough patience? When they fell behind to Illinois State, quick shots and ragged offense did not allow them to get back into the game.
Northern Iowa is a more structured, deliberate team that runs an efficient offense. Jordan Eglseder and Adam Koch lead the team in rebounding and scoring and both shoot a high percentage from the field. However, the Panthers play a team game and have others (Ahelegbe and Farokhmanesh) that can hurt you.
There are 3 keys to the game. First, the Salukis have to have fewer turnovers than recent games, and, they have to use the quickness that they do have on the perimeter to force turnovers. Second, they need to push the pace. Northern Iowa is not a prolific scoring, up-tempo, team but can and will score in the half-court. Last, Saluki bigs, especially Booker, need to stay out of foul trouble and limit second-chance opportunities.
A tall order, no doubt, to do these things to a team with only one loss on the season. However, if it can be accomplished the Salukis and the Panthers will be tied (along with others, I'm sure) at the top of the MVC. Going out on a limb a bit, the Salukis win 68-65.