SIU Edwardsville enjoyed the best non-conference success in the program’s painful Division I history.
And that was before the Cougars scored their uplifting 69-67 upset of SLU Wednesday night.
Coach Brian Barone led the up-tempo Cougars (9-4) to a six-game winning streak earlier this season, which included neutral site victories over Farleigh Dickinson and VMI and true road victories over Longwood and Kansas City.
“We’ve got players who can go, so that’s what we’re going to try to build on,” guard Ray’Sean Taylor said.
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They played tough on the road at Purdue Fort Wayne, one of the Horizon League favorites this season. They scored 80 points at Missouri. They played tough at Illinois State in a raucous environment at the school’s old arena, Horton Field House.
At home they beat Troy, which beat Florida State earlier this season, and they came within a split second of defeating Bradley.
Winning that game would have been special for Barone, who played with Bradley coach Brian Wardle at Marquette and worked under him as an assistant coach at Green Bay.
“On a personal level, it’s pretty cool when you’re sitting there with your roommate or your college teammate and you look down at the other end and you guys are both standing up making play calls,” Barone said. “That’s a special moment, there’s no doubt about it.
“You’re always trying to build towards putting family into basketball. That was a put family into basketball moment on a personal level. Now I’ve to listen to him moving forward getting us, but we’ve got another opportunity.”
This aggressive non-conference schedule prepared the Cougars – who have never won more than 12 games after moving up to Division I — to take their shot at the Billikens.
“I feel like this whole season, we haven’t put together a complete game yet,” SIUE guard Damarco “Polo” Minor said Sunday. “So we’re just trying to get better and better.”
The Cougars suffered a cold-shooting first half Wednesday, so this wasn’t a complete game either. But when the Billikens left the door ajar in the second half, SIUE raced through it.
“It was 33-22 at halftime and we didn’t show anybody what we were about, but we held them to 33 points,” Barone said. “They understood we were better than that and they came out in the second half and they responded.”
This not an upset on the magnitude of Eastern Illinois toppling Iowa 92-83 Wednesday as a 31-5 point underdog. The Panthers, like the Cougars, are a long-suffering member of the Ohio Valley Conference.
Eastern Illinois went to Iowa with just three victories, with two coming below the Division I level against Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and Blackburn. Then again, the Panthers coached by the well-respected Marty Simmons, who led SIUE to great success at the Division II level before his long run at Evansville.
But SIUE defeating SLU was an upset nonetheless, a monumental moment for Barone’s program. That’s why he climbed into the stands to hug family members after the final buzzer.
“It’s a really good group of guys who care about one another,” Barone said. “They care. They love. It’s pretty cool how we battled. We did it the right way.”
Here is what folks are writing about college basketball:
John Gasaway, ESPN.com: “When Louisville started its season 0-9, Cal did even worse (currently 0-12) and teams like Troy were winning on the road against opponents such as Florida State, some might have theorized a new era had dawned. Maybe the rise of a very busy transfer portal means ‘buy games’ — a major-conference program pays an agreed upon sum to a mid-major opponent to play a game on the big school’s home floor and, more often than not, the mid-major loses — are no longer automatic wins for home teams. Perhaps the greater freedom of movement for players across programs in men’s college basketball has translated into a new balance of power. Possibly mid-majors are now stocked with talented transfers these programs never could have recruited straight out of high school. And maybe at least a few major-conference programs, though talented, are very young and thus particularly ripe for an upset early in the season. Anyway, that was the theory. It turns out, however, that the theory is at best unproven and at worst incorrect. This season, major-conference teams are 327-24 in what might be termed ‘presumed’ buy games.”
Adam Spencer, Saturday Down South: “The fact that Kentucky is ranked No. 19 in this week’s AP Poll is an absolute disgrace. The Wildcats’ only win over a major-conference school is against Michigan, a team that isn’t even receiving votes in the poll. Ranked teams are supposed to be competitive against other ranked teams. Well, the Wildcats have lost by 9 (in overtime) to Michigan State, by 16 to Gonzaga and by 10 to UCLA. That’s unacceptable for a team with this much talent.”
Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com: “Tennessee is A) off to a 9-2 start, B) the only team to beat Kansas, and C) in possession of some strong computer numbers (No. 3 at BartTorvik.com, No. 4 in the NET, No. 5 in Sagarin, No. 6 in KPI). The Vols are really good once again and benefitting from the best defense in the country, according to KenPom.com. But the offense is a bit of a mess. The Vols are 49th in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, which is the lowest such ranking for any team in the top 15 of the CBS Sports Top 25 And 1. They rank 275th in effective field goal percentage, 236th in offensive turnover percentage, 274th in 2-point field goal percentage and 231st in 3-point field goal percentage. Nothing comes easily on that end of the court, which is an obvious problem if Tennessee’s goal is to make the Final Four for the first time in school history. Unless things dramatically improve, this will go down as the third straight year that the Vols have been elite defensively but maybe not quite good enough offensively to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Something needs to change on the offensive end, or else the Vols could end up producing another wonderful regular season that leads to another early exit from the NCAA Tournament. Take last season, when they shot 11.1% from 3-point range in a second-round loss to lower-seeded Michigan, or the season before when they shot 33.3% from the field in a first-round loss to lower-seeded Oregon State.”
Joe Cox, Saturday Down South: “The bad news first for the Hogs — transfer forward Trevon Brazile tore his ACL and is out for the season. Brazile, a Missouri import, was averaging 11.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game for Arkansas. The Hogs will distribute his minutes — twin transfers Makhi and Makhel Mitchell will both help pick up the slack. But overall, this just means that Arkansas will be a bit more guard-heavy … not that it’s necessarily a problem. The Hogs improved to 10-1 in nonconference play with a 76-57 win over Bradley on Sunday. Nick Smith is fitting right in and Arkansas is in fine shape … although the loss of Brazile could matter against a post-heavy opponent later in the season.”
David Cobb, CBSSports.com: “Jabari Smith masked this roster’s perimeter-shooting deficiencies last season by hitting 42% of his 3-point shots on 5.5 attempts per game. Without him, Auburn has become one of college basketball’s preeminent brick-layers. The Tigers ranked ranked 337th nationally in 3-point shooting percentage at 28.9% and 296th in made 3-pointers per game at 6.2 entering Wednesday’s game at Washington. Guards Wendell Green and K.D. Johnson lead the team in 3-point attempts per game, but neither are even shooting 30% from beyond the arc. Auburn is clinging to a spot in the AP Top 25 at No. 23, but the Tigers are down at No. 57 in the NET and registered as just a No. 10 seed in CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm’s projected NCAA Tournament field on Tuesday.”
“I’m just really happy for him, 11-0. This is a rebuilding job and he’s done it in one year. I’m just beaming with pride with what he’s accomplishing. I’m disappointed in my team but I’m so happy for him.”
Iona coach Rick Pitino, after losing to his son, New Mexico coach Richard Pitino.
Photos: SLU upset by SIUE 69-67
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