Lowery: No distractions, we're ready to play

St. Louis vs. SIU
After conducting one of the best practices I have seen since becoming the beat writer for the SIU men's basketball team, I've come to the conclusion that the road to redemption leads to Carbondale as the Salukis are looking to avenge a pair of difficult losses in one fell swoop.

The lively practice featured former star guard Tony Young suiting up and playing the kind of tenacious defense that makes me feel as if he should have a future beyond coaching and a focus on execution. Not to mention a near-perfect execution of the three-man weave, my favorite basketball drill.

SIU looked crisp Friday afternoon and will need to look equally as good if it wants to pick up its second straight home conference win.

In their last outing, The Salukis fell to archrival Creighton in overtime, 73-72, in a game head coach Chris Lowery said the team had won twice.

It was the kind of game that saw SIU put its best foot forward and then trip on its own two feet almost in the same motion.

For example, freshman guard Kevin Dillard led the team with 21 points (including 18 in the second half) and looked to ice a win with a pair of free throws with about 10 seconds remaining. Then disaster happened when the referees called a foul on Dillard as Bluejays guard Cavel Witter attempted a 3-point shot.

Witter would make all three free throws to send the game into overtime.

After holding Creighton without a field goal for the majority of the OT period, Dillard's turnover in the corner sparked the Bluejays offense to a pair of threes which ended up being the daggers in the collective gut of Saluki Nation.

Yet, the team looks as if it already moving past the game.

In no uncertain terms, Lowery said it stinks that it has taken the team so long to gel, especially with the departures that took place Jan. 1. But with the departures the team has come together and each aspect of Saluki hoops has taken major strides in only a few weeks time.

The motion offense is flowing freely with Dillard and senior guard Bryan Mullins orchestrating the movement, freshman guard Ryan Hare slashing to the basket and senior forward Tony Boyle making his layups and attacking the basket.

As for tonight's "White Out" game against in-state rival and Missouri Valley Conference leading Bradley, it just might mimic the AFC Championship Game which will run along side this college hoops battle.

There is no love lost between these two programs, especially after considering the 79-63 shellacking the Braves put on SIU in December.

Add a YouTube video to an already heated rivalry and you've got the makings of what could possibly go down as an instant Valley classic.

And yes, the players know about the now-infamous vid. And maybe the counter-vid by a Saluki fan.

"I'm pretty sure we all saw it," redshirt freshman center Nick Evans said. "They act like they've already won (The Valley) and it takes a lot to be a champion. I know I'm young and this is only my second year here but I know the work it takes to win in a long season. And to go ahead and act like they've already won it is a disrespect to the rest of The Valley, including us."

Evans himself is no stranger to controversy. His Maroon Madness dance during his true freshman year caught the ire of Coach Lowery and needless to say, it has not been a part of Evans' repoitoire since. The 6-foot-11-inch giant said he feels as he has grown up a little since then.

As for Coach Lowery, he declined to comment on the video, but did say he would not expect his players to put together such a video themselves.

Instead, Lowery said the team's focus is going to be squarely on the hardwood.

And in this reporter's opinion, that might separate the winner from the loser in tonight's game.