EVANSVILLE, Ind. - A visit to Evansville is supposed to be a homecoming of sorts for native son Chris Lowery.
Instead, it must have felt more like a trip to the dentist for a root canal for the Saluki head coach, as Southern Illinois made mistake upon mistake in a 75-68 lost to Evansville.
How bad was it?
Although the stat sheet said the Salukis missed 14 free throws, it seemed like even more as shot after shot bounced around the rim.
"You can't win when you miss that many free throws," Lowery said flatly.
SIU committed a whopping 31 personal fouls and had three players foul out of the game. Evansville forward Matt Webster drew the majority of the contact, and 11 of his team-high 19 points came from the charity stripe. Often, the 6-foot-8 inch forward was fouled 10 or more feet from the basket.
"We've just got to be better and be smarter," Lowery said. "We had some boneheaded mistakes."
Typically, defense is Southern's forte. However, the Purple Aces (10-9, 3-5) shot nearly 60 percent from the field. Kyle Anslinger made 5-of-7 shots from 3-point range to finish with 17 points.
"I couldn't get them ready to play, and that's my fault, and I take full credit for the loss," Lowery said.
Amazingly, SIU was still in the game with a minute remaining.
Southern rallied from a 16-point second half deficit behind the hot shooting of Jamaal Tatum, who finished with a season-high 29 points.
His jumper with 1:20 remaining closed the gap to 64-63. That's when a toothache in the form of Webster flared up.
Webster missed the second of two free throws with 59 seconds to go and SIU's Jamaal Foster grabbed the rebound. For a split second, Southern had the ball and a chance to tie or take the lead, trailing, 65-63. However, Foster lost his balance, fell to the floor and was whistled for traveling.
Webster then picked up where he left off, drawing another foul and making both free throws to put his team up four. Southern never seriously challenged thereafter.
In what has become something of a trend, the Salukis (14-5, 5-3) struggled against zone defense. Evansville used a 1-3-1 zone that held SIU without a field goal for a six-minute stretch during the first half and a seven-minute block to start the second half.
"Offensively, we just weren't aggressive enough," Saluki point guard Bryan Mullins said. "We've just got to move the ball better and be a lot more aggressive on offense."
Part of the problem in the first half was that forward Randal Falker was saddled with two quick fouls and played just six minutes.
"When Randal is not in there, we are not very threatening on the block," Lowery said.
Seventeen of SIU's 22 first half shots were from 3-point range.
"I think we just settled," Mullins said. "(3-pointers) is what they wanted us to take. We really didn't start going to the basket until the last 10 minutes of the game."
Once the Salukis began attacking the zone with dribble penetration in the second half, they erased much of Evansville's 16-point lead.
"We've got to be aggressive throughout the game, not just at the end when you realize you have a chance to win," said forward Matt Shaw, who finished with nine points.
The off-night came as a surprise to a team that played so well at home in its last two games.
"Whatever the circumstances are, you've got to be ready to play on the road every night," Tatum said. "You've got to be ready to play every game, whether it is on the road or not."
"Every game you play is a learning experience and learning how to play when you don't feel like you want to feel is huge with these guys," added Lowery.
Next up for SIU is a road game at Creighton on Saturday. That contest marks the end of the first half of the regular season.
"It is not too late," Lowery said. "The winner of this league is not going to lose three games. This league is too hard."