Indiana won’t have it easy in its only true non-conference road game of the season.
After bouncing back from its first loss in its most recent contest, the 15th-ranked Hoosiers look to carry that momentum over to Saturday when they visit Southern Illinois, which hasn’t lost at home in almost two seasons.
The game could have been a matchup of Top 25 teams, but Southern Illinois (3-1) dropped from No. 19 right out of the AP Poll after a 70-45 loss to Southern California in the finals of the Anaheim Classic on Sunday.
That doesn’t mean the Hoosiers (5-1) will have it any easier when they make their first trip to Carbondale, Ill., since losing 72-60 there on Dec. 1, 2001 for their only loss in five games versus Southern Illinois.
The Salukis look to extend their home-winning streak to 16 games dating to a 54-51 loss to Louisiana Tech on Feb. 18, 2006. Southern Illinois is 80-3 at home since 2001-02 for a .964 home winning percentage—the best of any Division I during that span.
SIU also won its last two home games versus Top 25 teams—beating then-No. 25 Northern Iowa 46-45 on Feb. 25, 2006 and then-No. 17 Creighton 70-62 on March 1, 2003.
“These games are invaluable,” Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson said. “For us, I think it is another valuable teaching tool for our kids in the month of December. It is a good game for us to play.”
The Hoosiers should be well prepared after defeating Georgia Tech 83-79 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, three days after losing 80-65 to Xavier at the Chicago Invitational. That win helped propel Xavier into the Top 25 this week at No. 23.
Star freshman Eric Gordon had 29 points, while D.J. White added 18 and 14 rebounds on Tuesday for the Hoosiers, who overcame a 4:27 scoring drought and five-point second-half deficit to shoot 49.0 percent in beating the Yellow Jackets.
Though Gordon is shooting 55.3 percent and is among the nation’s top scorers at 27.3 points per contest, the 6-foot-4 guard looks for a better overall effort Saturday after committing a season-high eight turnovers.
“Eric has got to get a lot better in a lot of other areas,” Sampson said. “His scoring right now is what he is known for. There is not one area of the game defensively that he can’t get better in.”
Gordon and Hoosiers have yet to face a defense that compares to the Salukis, who allow 57.0 points per game. The 6-9 White was held to eight points in last season’s meeting, but the Hoosiers overcame shooting 38.1 percent in a 57-47 victory on Dec. 17 at Assembly Hall.
“I think for them it is just a physical confidence,” Sampson said. “Their niche is their defense.I think that their two biggest strengths are their physical toughness and their mental toughness.”
The Salukis, though, look to bounce back from their first loss, where they shot a season-low 32.7 percent and allowed USC to shoot 59.5 percent. Southern Illinois allowed only two opponents to score 70 or more points last season when they ranked third in the nation allowing 56.2 points per game.
“That’s what happens when you don’t get back (on defense),” said SIU coach Chris Lowery, whose team won its first three games by an average of 18.7 points. “We panicked and some of our veteran guys acted in ways we’ve not seen from them. It got handed to us in a way that hasn’t happened in a long time.”
Randal Falker led SIU with 17 points and 12 rebounds. The senior forward leads the team with 17.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but looks for a better outing versus the Hoosiers after scoring five and grabbing four rebounds in 31 minutes versus Indiana last year.