CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP)—Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery is happy with Brandon Wood’s offense. The freshman still has a way to go on the defensive end.
Wood scored 15 points to help the No. 23 Salukis beat Northern Illinois 88-68 on Saturday night in their season opener.
“He has a chance to be very special here, without a doubt,” Lowery said. “When he gets it going, he can be magical.”
But in his program that casts itself as “Floorburn U” for its tenacious defense, Lowery submitted, Wood needs to step it up on that side of the ball.
After jumping out to a 17-0 lead, Lowery was disappointed that his team gave up 47 points in the second half, something he says he can’t recall the Salukis doing last season as they set a school record with 29 wins and notched their sixth-straight berth in the NCAA tournament.
Defensively now, Lowery said, “the new guys have got to play (better) so we can feel comfortable with the score tied rather than up by 30 points.”
Welcome to a year of transition, of sorts, for the Salukis, a season removed from counting on now-graduated veterans Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young as linchpins of what was among the nation’s stingiest defenses.
Southern’s defense hounded the Huskies from the start. Northern Illinois squandered its first 19 possessions with 13 missed shots, four turnovers and four botched free-throw tries in falling behind 17-0 before Bryan Paradise’s floating jumper finally got the Huskies (0-4) on the board with 10:12 left in the first half.
“It was ugly, wasn’t it?” said Ricardo Patton, who after 11 seasons at Colorado is in the infancy of trying to rebuild a Huskies program that last year finished 7-23. “I thought our kids played hard, but you’ve got to put the ball in the basket.
“You just can’t waste that many possessions.”
Jarvis Nichols had 18 points for Northern Illinois. Paradise and Cody Yelder each added nine points.
Bryan Mullins, who had a game-high nine assists, scored 15 of his 16 points in the first half for Southern, who led 43-21 at the half and saw its margin balloon to as much as 31 points in the second half. But twice Northern cut its deficit to 17 points—something Patton took some consolation in.
“If you take the final score and erase the first (half of the first half), it’s a three point ball game,” he said.