Competing less than two miles from where he played high school basketball, SIU-Carbondale senior Armon Fletcher left a lasting impression and joined an exclusive Salukis club all in a two-hour span Saturday at the Vadalabene Center.
A 2014 graduate of Edwardsville High School, Fletcher was 5-for-5 from behind the 3-point line and scored a season-high 24 points as the Salukis ran to an 82-61 win over the SIU-Edwardsville Cougars.
A 6-5, 215-pound guard who led the Salukis in scoring a year ago when he averaged 14.1 points a game, Fletcher thrilled a group of family and friends with a one-hand dunk for his first basket of the day then followed with a pair of 3-point jumpers as part of an eight-point first half. Fletcher’s second 3-point basket, which came with 6 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the first half, gave him 1,000 career points, making him the 46th player in Salukis history to accomplish the feat.
“It was fun. I came in wanting to have a good game then I missed my first two shots. The guys just told me not even think about just shoot it,’’ Fletcher said in the postgame news conference. “The coaches did some things to get me some open looks and my teammates did a good job of getting me the ball.
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“It was special. I always want to play well in front of my family and friends. But we just wanted to win the game. I didn’t want to get caught up in the individual stuff.’’
Junior Eric McGill added 12 points off the bench while three other players were also in double figures for the Salukis (5-3) who improved to 10-1 all-time against the Cougars.
The Cougars only win in the series occurred in 2015 and SIU-Edwardsville is now 0-5 against the Salukis at the Vadalabene Center. Salukis coach Barry Hinson comfirmed the two state rivals will not play in the 2019-2020 season.
On Saturday, SIU-Edwardsville (1-5) led only once when David McFarland hit a 3-point jumper in the opening minute of the game. The Salukis responded with an 8-point spurt, highlighted by a 3-point basket by Sean Lloyd, to take an 8-3 lead.
The Cougars were never even again. Never allowing a large turnout of 3,360 fans to become a factor, SIU-Carbondale enjoyed its best shooting game of the season. Led by an 8-of-10 effort from Fletcher, the Salukis shot 59.6 percent from the flloor (31-of-52) and were 11 of 20 from the 3-point line.
Still, Hinson wasn’t pleased with the overall effort effort that he said was “sloppy” at times. SIU-Carbondale committed 17 turnovers compared to only 13 for the Cougars.
“I wasn’t real happy with how we played today. We were outrebounded and we had more turnovers. We were sloppy with the basketball and I thought we were lackadaisical at times, especially our post players in the first half,’’ Hinson said. “But I’ll take a 21-point road win. Ugly or pretty, it don’t matter. The object is to win the basketball game. We did that.’’
Leading 37-29 at halftime, the Salukis came out hot in the second half. With Fletcher connecting on a pair of his 3-point jumpers, SIU made eight of its first 11 shots as its lead grew to 19 points.
But the Cougars didn’t quit. Led by McFarland (24 points) and Brandon Jackson (13), they remained with 12-16 points for much of the second half. A dunk by McFarland with just over three minutes left cut the Salukis advantage to 10 points.
“I’m never pleased with a loss,’’ Cougars coach Jon Harris said. “I thought this was a game we could have won had we executed a little better on things we worked in practice. But I was pleased with our effort. I felt the effort was there.’’
The day also turned out even better for Fletcher who shared a few words with his former Edwardsville High School coach Mike Waldo before the game. Waldo is in his first season as an assistant at SIU-Edwardsville under Harris, who also is an Edwardsville High School graduate and former standout player.
“That was really nice. He (Waldo) just told me how proud he was of me,’’ Fletcher said.