Wolf Pack readies itself for Southern Illinois | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack readies itself for Southern Illinois


Nevada Appeal Sports Writer

RENO ” Southern Illinois hung one of the worst losses of the 2007-08 season on the Nevada basketball team.

The Wolf Pack’s 74-49 setback in Carbondale, Ill., on Feb. 23, 2008, in the BracketBuster game trailed only the 106-70 massacre at Chapel Hill against North Carolina for lopsided defeats.

Nevada, 4-4, gets a chance to exact some revenge today at 3:05 p.m., when the Salukis, 3-4, visit for a rematch. The game will be broadcast on ESPN Radio 630 AM.

There have been personnel changes on both teams, and neither is off to a good start.

Mark Fox has a healthy respect for the 3-4 Salukis and their coach Chris Lowery, who has 99 wins in four-plus seasons as head coach. He said their record doesn’t indicate how good this year’s team is.

“They have a very good basketball program,” Fox said. “Chris (Lowery) has done a great job sustaining success. They have played Duke and UCLA. Their record is not all an indication of how tough this team is.

“I remember they hit seven 3-pointers in the first half (last season). They shot the ball terrific. Southern Illinois is a very physical team. It will be a physical game. It will be like a league game. I don’t know if they are more physical than UNLV.”

Two of the more physical players are senior forwards Tony Boyle (6-foot-8, 235 pounds) and Carlton Fay (6-8, 225), who are averaging 8.0 and 14.1 points per game, respectively.

“They are bigger than listed,” Fox said. “They are strong. Fay has put up some good numbers. They re experienced, older and stronger.”

Fox pointed out that he doesn’t have a lot of options to go bigger. The only one would be to try and play freshmen Ahyaro Phillips and Dario Hunt down low and move freshman phenom Luke Babbitt out to a wing.

Senior Bryan Mullins (9.4 ppg) anchors the backcourt. Freshmen Ryan Hare and Torres Roundtree start opposite Mullins.

The Salukis have some solid players coming off the bench in freshman guard Kevin Dillard (9.7 ppg) and sophomore guard Wesley Clemmons (6.4 ppg).

Dillard, who is the back-up point guard, has had some issues with turnovers thus far. He has 25 turnovers compared to 32 assists.

“He’s a freshman,” Lowery told SIU broadcaster Mike Reis. “It’s the toughest position to come in and play right away. You have to handle the ball, guard the ball and make the defensive changes out front. He has to get better at it.”

Clemmons shoots 47.4 percent from beyond the arc, and had four 3-pointers en route to a 12-point effort against UNC-Charlotte in a 66-64 loss, on Dec. 6. Clemmons said he enjoys coming off the bench.

“You see what plays are happening and where you need to make a stop,” Clemmons told Reis on a recent SIU podcast. “It’s more of an advantage not starting the game. You can come in and change the game. It’s more of an advantage as far as I’m concerned.”

Another thing that makes this doubly tough for Nevada is that the Wolf Pack is right in the middle of finals. Southern Illinois finished its finals on Friday.

“It’s tough playing a game in the middle of finals,” Fox said. “Our finals are spread out over two weeks. It’s not typical; (it’s) very hard. We didn’t have a full slate of players (for practice) today because they were preparing for (or taking) exams. That adds to the challenge. They are here to get their degrees first.”

Nevada is coming off a 95-39 win over Division II Sonoma State, and Fox was able to get 11 of his 12 players 14 or more minutes. Luke Babbitt played the most among the starters, logging 21 minutes.

“We’ve gotten better each week,” Fox said. “I’ve been pleased with their approach.”

Lowery said that the Salukis and Nevada are similar.

“They start a sophomore point guard (Armon Johnson), a true freshman forward (Babbitt) and a sophomore power forward (Malik Cooke),” Lowery said in an interview with the Southern Illinoisan newspaper. “The rest are freshmen and sophomores. They only start one senior (Lyndale Burleson).

“They have been kind of like we have. They have played on the road and struggled. They played at home and struggled, too. They got healthy with a D-II team a couple of days ago, but my big concern is what we did to them last year. That will definitely be on their minds, and we gotta fight and play hard.”

Lowery is concerned about rebounding against the Wolf Pack.

“They are very, very athletic, and they are long,” Lowery said. “That’s a big part of what they do. They get a lot of second-chance points and a lot of second-chance field goals because of the fact that they do rebound offensively.”

– Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or (775) 881-1281