By playing the ninth hardest nonconference schedule in the country, Southern Illinois gave themselves a convenient excuse for starting the season 5-6. The reasoning was that losses to Indiana, Saint Mary's and Butler would steel them for MVC play where they would blow past less seasoned competition. It's not working out that way.
They needed everything they had to outlast Missouri State in the conference opener and then lost 61-51 at Drake last night. The loss dropped the Salukis to 1-4 on the road, they won 10 such games last season, and drops them to 1-1 in the MVC. The loss was a reversion to poor form for SIU. Joshua Bone, who finally started hitting some shot in the last two, was 2-for-10 and they shot 39% as a team. They also missed 7-of-13 free throws while their physical defense sent the Bulldogs to the line 30 times.
Josh Young led the way for 2-0 Drake with 24 points. Young spurred the winning rally in the second half when, up 47-43, he scored five points to open an 11-2 run. They're 11-1 overall with their lone blemish a road loss at Saint Mary's and could be poised for a big conference run.
As for SIU, it's hard to predict a complete turnaround at this point. They'd need to win 14 of their remaining 16 to reach 20 wins, so at-large bids are a fantasy, and they'll need to find some consistent backcourt play to make an honest challenge at the MVC crown.
Elsewhere on the mid major hardcourts:
Georgia State 66, George Mason 64 - Mason led by 13 at the half but wilted in the face of Leonard Mendez. He and the Panthers went on a 15-2 run to open the second half to set up Mendez's buzzer beater. He ran down the clock with 10 seconds to play and then elevated for the winning jumper.
UMass 95, Houston 89 - It was a tale of two halves in Amherst. The Cougars were up 11 at the break but Etienne Fowler scored 17 in the second half as UMass outscored them 58-41. Both teams are now 11-2 and the Minutemen have a tough roadie with Vanderbilt before kicking off A-10 play next week.
Duquesne 96, Bowling Green 78 - The Dukes forced 24 turnovers and turned them into 29 points to continue their hot start. Reggie Jackson had 19 for the victors, who scored 60 in the second half to overwhelm the Falcons.
Indiana State 62, Creighton 54 - Southern Illinois isn't the only disappointment in the MVC. Creighton fell to 0-2 in conference after shooting 37% in last night's loss. The Sycamores are 2-0, however, and got a strong overall game from Gabe Moore. He had 13 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals to fill the box score wiith goodness.
Arkansas-Little Rock 84, New Orleans 75 - The Trojans won a big Sun Belt road game by hitting 12-of-25 from beyond the arc. They are now 2-0, a game up on the Privateers in the Sun Belt West. New Orleans started the game 8-of-9 from the floor but then missed 14-of-15 to lose their edge and the game.