Southern Illinois (4-1) at Western Kentucky (6-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, December 5, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: E.A. Diddle Arena (7,326) -- Bowling Green, Kentucky. Television: HSSN, ESPN FC. Home Record: SIU 2-0, WKU 3-0. Away Record: SIU 2-1, WKU 2-1. Neutral Record: SIU 0-0, WKU 1-1. Conference Record: SIU 0-0, WKU 2-0. Series Record: WKU leads 12-11.
GAMES NOTES: Riding a four-game win streak the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will return home to host the Southern Illinois Salukis in a non-conference bout at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The Salukis bounced back from their first loss of the season to Saint Louis, with a hard fought 57-54 victory over Fresno State on Desmar Jackson's last second 3-pointer. With the win the Salukis are now 4-1 overall this season, including a 2-1 mark on the road. The Salukis have spent a great deal of time on the road this season and will continue to in the coming weeks with six of their next seven games away from Carbondale.
With a 75-71 win at Troy on Saturday the Hilltoppers have strung together wins in four straight games, including two victories against conference opponents. Western Kentucky is now 6-2 overall including a perfect 3-0 mark at home. In those home wins the Hilltoppers have outscored their opposition by an average margin of 19.7 points. Western Kentucky hosts IUPUI in its next matchup before a tough three-game road trip.
Western Kentucky has won consecutive games against Southern Illinois and owns a 12-11 all-time series advantage. Last season the Hilltoppers took down the Salukis 62-55 at SIU Arena.
There were only four lead changes in Southern Illinois' win over Fresno State but all of those came in the final three minutes of the game, the last on Jackson's game-winner with 13 seconds remaining. Despite shooting 48.9 percent in the game, the Salukis allowed too many points at the foul line (15), while netting only 8-of-17 themselves. Jackson had the hot hand with 24 points, while Jeff Early had a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double.
En route to its solid start, Southern Illinois has largely avoided close contests. The Salukis boast a +12.8 scoring differential by scoring 70.2 points per game while shooting an even 50.0 percent from the floor. That shooting percentage is the 13th best mark in the country. Southern Illinois also wins the rebounding battle more often than not with a +7.0 edge on the boards. Despite his stature, Early (18.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg) has been a formidable force in the paint. At just 6-foot-1 the senior is shooting an astounding 61.9 percent from the field, by getting in close, while also crashing the boards at an alarming rate. Jackson (13.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg) is another strong scorer and rebounder out of the backcourt. Obviously the Salukis are driven from the wings, with head coach Chris Lowery playing to this strength by starting four guards.
Despite trailing for most of the game, by as many as 13 points at one time, the Hilltoppers clawed their way back against Troy. The key run was an 11-2 spurt that cut the lead to three with just under three minutes. Both T.J. Price (23 points, 11 rebounds) and George Fant (18 points, 10 rebounds) had double-doubles for the Hilltoppers.
During its win streak, Western Kentucky has been outscoring opponents by an average margin of 13 points, although that number is largely inflated by a 28= point rout of Brescia. On the season the Hilltoppers still own an impressive scoring margin (+9.0) while dominating on the boards as well with a +8.0 differential in rebounds. Price (16.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg) rebounds well from the backcourt and has an explosive scoring ability with a 30-point outing already under his belt. Teaming with Price in the backcourt is another prolific scorer in Jamal Crook (15.0 ppg, 4.2 apg). Crook has been slowed of late scoring 7.0 points per game in the last two contests. Before that he scored at least 14 points in six straight games. Fant (11.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) gets his work done from the interior, although he could stand to finish better (43.1 FG percentage) considering he normally gets his shot closer to the rim.
This is an intriguing mid-major battle in the early season. Both teams have played well early on but with their bulk of scoring options, the Hilltoppers should find a way to earn a victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 70, Southern Illinois 66
12/05 10:37:22 ET