Southern Illinois Salukis vs. Indiana St. Sycamores Pick & Prediction FEBRUARY 17th 2024

No. 23 Indiana State has more work to do than expected to win the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title.

Their lead cut in half after a shocking result Tuesday, the Sycamores travel to Carbondale, Ill., on Saturday night for a conference contest with Southern Illinois.

Indiana State (22-4, 13-2 MVC) flubbed its first game as a ranked team in 45 years with an 80-67 home loss against an Illinois State team that entered the game at 11-14. But the Redbirds led most of the way, getting a career-high 31 points from freshman Johnny Kinziger and taking advantage of 8-for-38 3-point shooting from the Sycamores.

Following that loss, third-year Indiana State coach Josh Schertz succinctly assessed the performance of his team.

“We played like an entitled, soft team today,” he said. “You know, we’d won nine in a row and we’ve gotten ranked but that masked some slippage. And we’ve been playing with fire, and tonight, we ran into a team that was hungrier and tougher than we were.”

There was also injury added to the surprising insult as forward Jayson Kent, the team’s leading rebounder at 8.3 per game who also adds 12.7 points per game, departed less than 90 seconds into the second half after taking a blow to the head. Kent’s status for Saturday night’s is uncertain.

That’s a big deal because the Sycamores don’t have much depth. Xavier Bledson and Jake Wolfe, both wing players, are the only subs who average double-figure minutes. All five starters play at least 30 minutes per game.

Isaiah Swope leads the team’s offensive attack at 17.7 points per game, while Robbie Avila chips in 16.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Indiana State leads Drake by a game in the league with five games remaining.

Meanwhile, the Salukis (16-10, 8-7) are locked in a four-way tie for fourth in the MVC after an 82-68 defeat Wednesday night at Belmont. They struggled to make shots, hitting just 37.3 percent from the field and 8 of 32 from the 3-point line.

Not even the nation’s second-leading scorer could aid them in this one. Xavier Johnson, who averages 23.4 ppg, hit only five of 17 attempts from the field and finished with 17 points. That’s just one above his previous season low.

The night wasn’t a total loss for Johnson, who broke coach Bryan Mullins’ 17-year-old single-season school record for assists in a season with 157 and also set a single-season program record for most made free throws in a year at 185.

Defense was the biggest issue for SIU. It allowed Belmont to shoot 50 percent from the field — the third straight game it has enabled an opponent to do that.

“Defensively, we’ve got to be much tougher and it starts with our ball pressure,” Mullins said. “We’ve got to be able to play Saluki basketball on a high level and play possession-by-possession, and be more consistent and more disciplined.”

The Sycamores are shooting for a season sweep after walloping SIU 77-48 on Nov. 28 in Terre Haute, Ind., in each team’s conference opener.

–Field Level Media

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