Coaches for the men's and women's basketball teams expressed excitement for the coming season after winning against Tennessee State University last Thursday, and are looking forward to the remainder of the Ohio Valley Conference.
Both games were hard-fought and drew quite a crowd. The score at the end of the women’s game was 76-69, and 81-72 for the men’s game. Though Tennessee State held the lead very briefly in the women’s game, they never held it once in the men's game.
Men’s basketball Head Coach Brian Barone complimented Tennessee State’s team’s playing.
“I think we were playing against a top-tier team in our league,” Barone said. “I think they’re very well-coached, they’ve got a lot of talent and to be in control of the game on the scoreboard from start to finish is a great accomplishment for us.”
In both the men’s and the women’s team’s games on Jan. 5, both teams had plenty of strong assists. Frequently, different players on both teams would take the difficult but selfless opinion to make a weak shot at the basket, only for another player to jump up and guarantee it makes it.
In fact, the women’s team had their season-high of 20 assists in the game. Women’s basketball Head Coach Sam Smith said assists have always been a key part of the game that she’s taught the players.
“I say this to our four kids at home that sharing is caring, and you can show how much you care for a teammate and love a teammate by making an extra pass, by running on offense through and multiple players on our team touching the ball,” Smith said. “That kind of playing makes us really, really difficult to guard. You only get to that by making extra passes, by sharing the basketball throughout an offense.”
Barone said assists represent a very important, central part of any sport — playing for the team, not yourself.
“[The team] never wavers on their support for one another,” Barone said. “They always want their teammate who’s on the court to have success. When there’s someone out there supporting you from the bench, or even right next to you, I think you can just play the game better overall.”
As well as assists, there were quite a few rebounds throughout both games. Sophomore guard Damarco Minor from Chicago is in the midst of his first season at SIUE, but in this game, he established a new career high for rebounds.
“I’m really just still trying to learn,” Minor said. “I just try to find a role, do what I’ve got to do to win the game. If it’s rebounds, assists or whatever I do in the game, I try to do it.”
Redshirt sophomore DeeJuan Pruitt from Sacramento had his season high of rebounds during the game as well.
“I like getting good rebounds, and that’s a big part of winning for this team, and I just thought coming out strong with those tonight would help us win, and it did,” Pruitt said.
Another record broken was from senior guard KK Rodriguez from St. Louis, who got the most points she has yet in this season in the women’s game.
Looking at the season for both teams as a whole, the women’s team had a tough non-conference season, winning only one game and losing 10. However, Rodriguez said this was actually somewhat beneficial for the team in the long run.
“I think that just overly prepared us for when it comes to the conference. I’m not saying that anyone is not as good, but being able to roll with the punches is so important,” Rodriguez said. “If we get knocked down, we need to be able to come back. And I feel like, a lot of the time, in those big games, that we did. We may have not won, but we fought and tried to come back.”
Smith also said that although the non-conference season is important, ultimately, the actual conference games are what decide the winners.
“Going into January and February, you want to be playing your best basketball,” Smith said. “You want to be sharing the ball. You need to know when it’s your time and when it’s your moment. Whether it’s [sophomore guard Sofie Lowis] in the three-point range, or if it’s [senior forward Ajulu Thatha] and we need her underneath to make a big play, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, and it’s good to learn how to use them.”
The women’s team’s next home game is 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 14 against Lindenwood University, followed by the men’s game at 5:30, also against Lindenwood.