Coming off three straight losses, the Southern Illinois University Edwwardsville men’s basketball team faces its greatest challenge of the young season Saturday.
The Cougars (1-3) will be at historic Hinkle Field House in Indianapolis to face the Butler Bulldogs (3-1). Butler had reached No. 20 on both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches’ Poll before losing to Miami at the San Juan Shootout on Sunday.
SIUE’s first-year head coach Jon Harris knows Hinkle Field House environment well, having completed a successful college care at Big East Conference rival Marquette.
“As a ball player it’s what you live for — you get to go on the road, it’s a ranked opponent, a historic gym and it’ll be a great atmosphere,” Harris said. “That said, it’s very challenging to go in there and get a win.”
The Cougars are coming off a disappointing loss to Campbell at Vadalabene Center. They out rebounded the Fighting Camels more than 2-to-1 and, though they shot just 35 percent from the field, got most of their points on second-chance shots.
But SIUE had no answer for Campbell freshman Chris Clemons, who led all scorers with 26 points, despite sitting out more than seven minutes early in the second half. Defense will have to be better against Butler, Harris said.
“They are what they are — they don’t beat themselves, they do a good job moving the ball, they’re well coached, they make open shots,” said Harris, a graduate of Edwardsville High School. “They do a good job playing inside out and playing to their strengths, especially at home. It’s going to be very challenging to say the least.”
Among Butler’s leaders is Roosevelt Jones, a 2011 graduate and former three-year starter at O’Fallon High School. He also was the Belleville News-Democrat large school Player of the Year both his junior and senior seasons.
He was an All-Big East second-team selection last season and a finalist for the Julius Erving Award, given annually to the nation’s best small forward.
Jones is one of six Bulldogs averaging in double figures through the first four games, ranking second on the team at 13.8 points per game on 52-percent shooting from the field. He also leads the team in steals and assists, and is third with 5.5 rebounds per game.
As an assistant to East St. Louis native and current University of California head coach Cuonzo Martin, Harris made recruitment visits to bring Jones to both Missouri State and Tennessee.
“He’s a match-up problem — 6-foot-4, probably 230 pounds, plays inside,” Harris said. “Right now they have him at the backup 1, at that size. He’s a match-up nightmare.
“It’s good to see a local guy have success. Hopefully we can limit that a little bit on Saturday.”
Senior guard Kellen Dunham leads Butler at 18.5 points per game.
Through four games, guard Burak Eslik (14 ppg), a senior transfer from Lewis and Clark College and native of Istanbul, Turkey, has led the Cougars twice in scoring. Jalen Henry (11 ppg), a sophomore from Springfield, has led the charge two other times.
Alton freshman Carlos Anderson (8.3 ppg, 5.5 rebounds per game) has been SIUE’s top defender.
Plaza Lights Classic
The SIUE women’s basketball team will be playing the fourth and fifth of seven consecutive road games this weekend when they participate at the Plaza Lights Classic at University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The Cougars were the preseason coaches’ pick to win the Ohio Valley Conference, but are off to a 1-3 start, losing most recently at Missouri on Tuesday.
SIUE faces Stephen F. Austin at 3:30 p.m. Friday, then plays host UMKC Saturday, also at 3:30 p.m.
The road trip continues at Illinois State next Tuesday at SIU Carbondale next Friday. The Cougars return home against St. Louis Dec. 7 at 7 p.m.
SIUE is led by Shronda Butts, who has 20.5 points and 2.5 steals per game. Lauren White, a red-shirt sophomore from Edwardsville High School, is averaging 6.8 points per game.