PEORIA — What goes around, comes around.
Thirteen days ago, Bradley negated a generally poor performance in the first 34 minutes at Southern Illinois with a yeoman’s effort down the stretch for the Braves’ first Missouri Valley Conference victory.
On Saturday before 5,968 at Carver Arena, the Salukis snatched a comeback win in the closing minutes of the rematch. Trailing by 10 points with 12 minutes left and by five near the 5-minute mark, SIU emerged with a 72-68 triumph.
“It was a role reversal,” said BU coach Brian Wardle. “We just didn’t close ‘em out like we did at their place. They finished and made big shots. I give them a lot of credit.”
Like Bradley, SIU (12-11, 5-5) is trying to salvage a high-expectation season gone sideways. Unlike the 11-12 Braves, who dropped to 3-7 in the MVC, the Salukis are still within striking distance of the top with eight games left as 7-2 Loyola tipped off late Saturday at Illinois State.
“We’ve got a lot on our plate right now,” said SIU coach Barry Hinson, whose job survival is the main course. “We’re just trying to cut out distractions as much as we can.”
His players did that with a combination of hustle and skill in the late going, scoring on 14 of 16 possessions beginning with Aaron Cook’s 3-pointer at 12:06.
From that point forward, the Salukis scored 14 second-chance points. Six of those were on put backs by one of the smallest players on the court — 6-foot-2 Eric McGill. They were the only six points he scored all day.
“I told Eric at halftime to get back on transition defense because he’s not getting any offensive rebounds,” Hinson said. “I always say that because it kind of fires him up a little bit.”
Bradley took control of the defensive-oriented game late in the first half, assuming a 34-24 advantage at the break.
The Braves were moving the ball well on offense and moving their feet well on defense. And converting a good number of offensive rebounds into points. BU had 17 second-chance points by the 12-minute mark of the second half.
But forces that Bradley held at bay in Carbondale — Kavion Pippen’s inside scoring and Sean Lloyd’s driving ability — came alive at Carver.
Pippen scored 10 points each half as Luuk van Bree and Elijah Childs struggled to contain him. Lloyd, averaging just seven points in conference games, ended with 16 mostly on drives and free throws from failed efforts to stop him.
Add to that some adjustments that Hinson and his staff made at halftime, mostly to contain Darrell Brown.
The BU point guard and the Braves’ leading scorer made just four field goals in 15 attempts. All four were 3-pointers. His forays to the basket were constantly thwarted, mainly by McGill.
“We guarded Brown better and made him finish over the top,” Hinson said. “When he gets an angle or a crack, that’s when he scores.”
Hinson joked that it was important for his team to close the gap in the game before inebriation set in at Carver.
“Because when those beer drinkers start going, it’s really hard to win in this place,” he said. “That usually happens around the 8-12 minute mark. I haven’t won in this place in a long time (three years). I don’t even drink, but I may drink a beer tonight.”
Meanwhile, the Bradley coaches might need to sip something stronger. With some difficult matchups ahead (two vs. Loyola, at Illinois State, at Drake), avoiding the Thursday night play-in round of the Valley tournament is looking more and more remote.
At minimum, four more wins will be needed and maybe one or two more, depending on how the tiebreakers shake out.
It has to start Wednesday at Northern Iowa, which won at Carver in the MVC opener. What goes around comes around?
Dave Reynolds can be reached at 686-3210 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at davereynolds2.