CARBONDALE, Ill. - After Southern Illinois beat Southwest Baptist, 87-79, in its final exhibition tuneup of the preseason, head coach Chris Lowery let senior point guard Bryan Mullins address the team in the locker room.
Although the Salukis looked sharp for much of the night against one of the nation's top Division II teams, Lowery wasn't pleased to watch an 18-point lead get sliced in half during the game's final 90 seconds. With its best player fouled out of the game, the Bearcats finished the game with a 14-5 run, created in part by five Saluki turnovers.
"We have some very talented young guys, who have to get better fast, and that's the reality of it," Lowery said. "It's disappointing we let them come back like that. We went from having a great locker room to having a somber locker room with Bryan Mullins screaming at everyone."
Southern Illinois begins regular-season play on Tuesday when it hosts another Division II team in California (Pa.). Waiting in the wings is a potential matchup with Atlantic 10 foe UMass on Wednesday.
"I know that the older guys are ready," Lowery said. "We just have to work on our young guys. They have the capabilities to do it, and now we just have to coach them up in the next couple of days."
Mullins and Carlton Fay led the team with 13 points apiece. Mulliins is starting to look like his old self after missing all summer recovering from a stress fracture in his leg.
"I thought Bryan did a great job of directing," Lowery said. "He's mature, and he really ran the ball club well."
In the first half, the Salukis had a tough time containing Southwest Baptist 6-foot-11 center Matt Rogers, who scored 16 points of his 19 points. Lowery called him a future pro.The Bearcats also made 7-of-15 3-point shots in the first half and trailed, 41-40, at intermission.
SIU increased its defensive pressure in the second half and gradually pulled away.
"We stopped allowing them to get pentration, and we were starting to wear them down," Lowery said. "We really attacked them to start the second half, and it was Wesley Clemmons who got us going defensively with a couple steals."
Clemmons, a senior guard, finished with eight points, three assists and three steals off the bench. A starter last year, he has seen increased competition from all the newcomers. "I'm just trying to figure it out -- just see where I stand," he said. "I'm just trying to show them what to do and be a leader. I try to show them to go hard in practice every day, listen to the scouting report, listen what coach says and believe in our system. If they follow right behind me, then everything will be fine."
Roundtree, who was in the starting lineup, led SIU with five rebounds and applied tenacious ball pressure on defense.
"Torres did a great job for us," Lowery said. "We hope he can develop into a very good defender."
Booker came off the bench and did all his damage in just 14 minutes.
"Booker can really score," Lowery said. "We know that we just have to make sure he doesn't go crazy when he gets in,but he's very smart. He understands where he can score from, and he can score all over the floor."
Ironically, the newcomers who were most productive in the first game -- Kevin Dillard and Justin Bocot -- combined to score just three points. Lowery said the coaching staff is still experimenting with different combinations, and fans shouldn't read too much into who starts and how many minutes guys play in exhibition.
The newcomers will ultimately adapt to their new roles, he said.
"They're all used to being the best and scoring the points and being the hero," Lowery said. "Sometimes, they have to be company men, and that's what they have to get used to. Some days, you're going to be a company guy and enjoy the ride and helps us win and get on the bus and help us celebrate."
Clemmons wants to make sure the new guys understand how the program was built.
"You see how we play, and it ain't pretty," he said. "We do all the dirty work. I mean, it's Floorburn U. So you got to get out there and play D. That's what Bryan was talking about in the locker room. I mean the offense is going to come, but as long as we stop them and just play hard, it will work out for itself."
Roundtree said the younger players got the message Mullins was sending.
"We need to stay focused and cut in during the game and stop making so many sloppy turnovers," he said. "He was real upset with the performance, because normally, Saluki defense does not give up 80 points two games in a row."