SIU men's basketball team aims to extend turnaround momentum
As the Southern Illinois men’s basketball team prepares for another season of play, it does so looking to maintain the momentum of an incredible turnaround last season.
“I think the biggest thing that led to it was our family atmosphere, and our team actually came together and really united as a group,” Salukis head coach Barry Hinson told SE Illinois News. “We had just gone through the five guys transferring, and it was really kind of an alarm, or a wake-up call for our team to be able to have better chemistry.”
Hinson was referring to a nearly disastrous stretch at the end of last March, when four freshmen and one senior left the team. On March 16, freshman guards Chaz Glotta (University of Northern Colorado) and K.C. Godwin (Union University) transferred. On March 24, senior guard Jalen Pendleton transferred to Minnesota State University. Then, on March 31, the school announced the loss of two more freshmen, point guard Deion Lavender (University of Alabama-Birmingham) and guard/forward Jordan Caroline (University of Nevada).
For many programs, the loss of five players, including four promising young players, would have been crippling. But using that renewed team chemistry, the team rebounded from 12-21 in 2015 to a 22-10 mark in 2016. A big part of that turnaround was the play of senior guard Anthony Beane, who led the Salukis with 19.3 points per game, scoring that even Hinson must admit will be hard to replace.
“I think any time you lose a guy that scores 20 points a basketball game, and the third all-time leading scorer in the history of this program, (laughing), I think that ought to say enough right there,” Hinson said. “But we don’t have one individual on our team, I don’t think, that can go out and get 20 points per night, per game, but I do think that collectively, we can amount those points together as a unit.”
The Salukis turn to senior forward Sean O’Brien, who was second on the team, with 12.1 points per game. Hinson said O’Brien has been showing the hard work that represents being a senior leader on the team and will be asked to do more scoring.
“I think everywhere I’ve gone in the preseason and everyone I’ve talked to, I’ve made the comment that Sean O’Brien has practiced throughout the summer, and through the preseason to date, as an all-league player,” Hinson said. “I couldn’t be happier, I couldn’t be any more excited, about a young man entering into his senior season.”
Despite the Salukis' strong season, they will be looking to make a return to postseason play. Southern Illinois did not receive invitations to the NCAA Tournament or the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). The school may have been invited to other postseason events, such as the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) or the new Vegas 16 event, but SIU decided to decline such invites. It’s believed that injury concerns at the time of the events and/or school budget concerns played a factor in the decision.
For Hinson, returning to the postseason is always among his goals for the team.
“Our goals never change,” Hinson said. “We start the year off every year trying to win a Missouri Valley regular (season) championship, as well as a tournament championship, and certainly our goal is postseason play.”