Southern Illinois University Edwardsville had no answer for the array of offense thrown at it Friday by the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Salukis.
SIUC shot a sizzling 73 percent from the field in the first half and 69 percent in the game as it dismantled the Cougars 101-83 before a Vadalabene Center crowd of 3,017.
The Salukis (2-2) held a 54-33 lead at halftime and pulled away to a 34-point advantage in the final 7 1/2 minutes, avenging their 76-74 loss to SIUE last season in Carbondale.
“No question about it, you can’t win ballgames allowing your opponent to shoot at that clip,” Cougars coach Jon Harris said. “That’s something we’ve talked a lot about. We’re allowing teams to get to the rim, right to the heart of our defense. That’s something we obviously have to get corrected here very soon.”
The Cougars (2-2) received a game- and career-high 24 points and five 3-pointers off the bench from sophomore Tre Harris, Jon Harris’ nephew. Junior Jalen Henry scored 17 points and freshman Christian Ellis scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half.
SIUC was just too strong in the paint, where it did the majority of its damage. The Salukis, who were 37-for-54, scored 54 points in the lane.
Senior Sean O’Brien topped SIUC with 22 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Seniors Mike Rodriguez and Leo Vincent scored 20 points apiece and redshirt sophomore Armon Fletcher, an Edwardsville High graduate, had all 11 of his points in the second half after committing two quick fouls that sent him to the bench for most of the first half.
No question about it, you can’t win ballgames allowing your opponent to shoot at that clip. That’s something we’ve talked a lot about. We’re allowing teams to get to the rim, right to the heart of our defense. That’s something we obviously have to get corrected here very soon.
SIUE men’s basketball coach Jon Harris
Fletcher had two 3-pointers, one coming over Harris, his former teammate at Edwardsville.
“We wanted to beat them by a lot,” the 6-foot-4 Fletcher said. “They came to our place (last year) and beat us. It motivated us and encouraged us to keep pushing. It feels great, especially coming back to my hometown. My birthday is (Saturday), so it’s kind of an early birthday present. I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Salukis coach Barry Hinson lauded his team’s play, which included 25 assists.
“That’s probably the second-best performance I’ve had in 36 years,” he said. “This was a big deal to us. That hurt last year. We really challenged our guys hard over these last 48 hours and I thought our guys responded.”
Hinson lauded O’Brien for setting the tone.
“That’s the best performance I’ve ever had from an individual player,” Hinson said. “Nine assists, one turnover, a block, a steal, nine rebounds and 22 points. That’s the best performance I’ve ever had out of a basketball player.”
Hinson wasn’t as enthralled by the Salukis’ defense. SIUE shot 53 percent in the second half and 47 percent in the game (27-for-57). The Cougars, however, had no fast-break points.
“We can score,” he said. “We can’t stop my grandson from getting to the basket, but we can score. If we don’t figure out how to start guarding defensively ... Then again, it’s hard to guard when they’re going to call 30 fouls. We almost fouled out five guys tonight.”
The game was pretty much decided by halftime.
The Salukis rolled to an overwhelming 54-33 lead at the intermission as they shot 73 percent from the field (22-for-30) and burned the Cougars in the post time after time.
SIUC wasn’t too shabby from beyond the arc, either. Sophomore Austin Weiher popped a deep 3-pointer from the left wing with seven seconds left in the half to extend the SIUC advantage to 21 points. The Salukis were 4-for-7 on 3-pointers in the half.
Tre Harris did his best to keep the Cougars in contention, hitting three 3-pointers and contributing 11 points in 13 minutes off the bench. Henry had a hot hand early for the Cougars, sinking his first three shots and finishing the half with 10 points.
The Cougars outscored SIUC 50-47 in the second half.
“It didn’t go how we wanted,” Tre Harris said, “but we’re all excited about it. There were a lot of emotions flying. It was good to play against (Fletcher).”
Harris was pleased with his offensive output, but couldn’t dismiss the defensive letdown.
“My teammates found me and I just took the opportunities that they gave me,” he said. “I shot the ball when I was open and luckily it went down. We’ve just got to pick it up on the defensive end as a team. We definitely need that, and rebounding.”