This contest marks the eighth-straight road game for the Tigers. Texas Southern plays its first 16 games on the road this season — the longest streak in the nation. The Tigers won't play at home until they host Grambling State on Jan. 14. TSU is coached by Mike Davis, who coached two games against the Salukis while he was the head coach at Indiana (2000-06). He led the Hoosiers to an 85-63 win over SIU in Bloomington, Indiana on Dec. 2, 2000. The following year, Southern pulled off the upset at home, topping the No. 24-ranked Hoosiers, 72-60, in a sold-out game on Dec. 1, 2001. Indiana advanced to the national title game that season, while the Bruce Weber-coached Salukis went to the Sweet 16.
The leading scorer for Texas Southern is junior G Zach Lofton (20.3 points). Saluki fans might remember him from his sophomore season at Illinois State in 2013-14. He averaged 11.3 points for the Redbirds and scored 18 points in the game versus SIU in Normal, Illinois, and 11 points in the game in Carbondale.
Saluki head coach Barry Hinson press conference transcript
Texas Southern has played a lot of road games so far. What do you see out them coming into this game?
I think there are several story lines here. You have Mike Davis, an extremely respected coach with over 300 wins. You've got a guy that has won the league in the SWAC and gone on to the NCAA Tournament. You have possibly the best offensive rebounder that you're going to see all year round in [Derrick] Griffin. You've got a kid named [Zach] Lofton that's very familiar with playing in this building that used to be at Illinois State and is shooting the ball anywhere from 17 to 18 times a game. Then you have a 7-foot, athletic, Marvin Jones that plays on the perimeter that we recruited out of Highland Community College. We're very familiar, not only with this program, but how good they are and they're certainly the most athletic bunch that we've played to date. That includes everybody.
Arizona was able to score in transition against them, that's been a big part of your offense. How do you control the tempo?
I think the only way we can run is if we get stops. We don't run unless we can stop somebody. If somebody scores on us we're not going to run, but Arizona is a little different than us. They've got two 7-footers and one of them went 5-for-6 from three. I do think that you've seen this ball club culminate in the last three games defensively. If we can continue to do what we do defensively I think we have a chance to have a good basketball team. I still believe we can shoot the basketball. We're last right now in the Missouri Valley Conference in three point shooting but I don't think we're a last-place team. I think we have the capabilities of being a top-tier team shooting the three.
Was improving the interior presence a point of emphasis in recruiting this year?
I think for us the interior deal was, yes. We have to have somebody that can alter or block shots inside. We haven't had that since I've been here. We've had height, but they couldn't block shots nor could they finish shots. We think that Thik Bol is that guy. We know he's missed some lobs here and he's had some trouble handling passes, but when you go back and you look at it on film, you find out that in most cases the passes weren't great or it was given to him in a position where it would be difficult for him to have a positive outcome.
Lofton and Dulani Robinson lead the team for Texas Southern. They'll take a lot of shots from outside of the 3-point line. How is that similar challenge to Murray State?
I think the thing with Lofton and Stark is very similar. Lofton is going to shoot the ball every time he touches it. He shoots 17 to 18 shots a game. Our leading shot taker is seven times a game. They've got a guy shooting 11 more times than our leading shooter. The other thing with Robinson is that he has great depth. This is a senior. It is not his first rodeo. He gets it. He's a really good player. He goes downhill. He knows what to do. He's a phenomenal passer. You've got Jones and Griffin coming off of those ball screen and he just throws it up. They've got two Thik Bols. Griffin was recruited to be a wide receiver for Johnny Manziel when he was a quarterback at Texas A&M. This kid is a big-time athlete. He's a big-time player. There's a reason he was player of the year as a freshman and was picked as the preseason player of the year. That's pretty impressive.
How do they use him?
He's shooting about 80% inside the paint. What he does is he gets the rebound. When the shot goes up he will get it. He's a lot like Dennis Rodman. He's one of those guys that if anyone misses around the basket he goes and gets it. This will be one of our bigger challenges that we've faced all year.
Do you know Mike Davis personally?
I don't know Mike. I've followed his career. I certainly remember when he took Indiana to the National Championship. I'm extremely impressed with Mike and what he has done. I'm even more impressed with what he's done this year taking 16-straight road games. Their first home game is January 14 . That's an unbelievable challenge and you don't see him ever whining in the paper or in his game notes about it. I'm really impressed with Mike Davis.
How did this game come about?
The game came about when we had the mess up with the tournament we had. One of the byproducts was they helped us get Texas Southern in here. It certainly wouldn't be an opponent that we would go out and schedule because I know how good they are often. There are no more easy games. Every game will go down to the wire from here on out. I think every team we play will have a winning record except with the exception of one team. Every team we play from here on out is really good. We have no more games that our fans show up or our players will think, 'eh, we can just show up and play.' There are no more of those.
You said Armon Fletcher has worked on his three point shot a lot this summer. How much has that helped his confidence.
I think you've seen that even when he's not making shots he still has the confidence to go ahead and shoot the basketball. He can shoot much better than he has been and right now he's sitting at the 43 or 44 percent mark. I believe he's an even better shooter than that. I think its helped him a tremendous amount. Armon is his own biggest challenge. Armon has an opportunity to be paid to play one day. He's got the body. He's got the athleticism. He needs to have the want more, but I think that will happen with a little more maturation. Armon is a young player. I do think you'll see he will make great improvement as it goes on.
What is Rudy Stradniek's role right now?
I think right now what people are missing is that he has 10 offensive rebounds. Sean O'Brien and Thik Bol have 13 a piece. And they're playing twice the minutes that Rudy is. He's got 10 offensive rebounds in half of the minutes. We've asked Rudy to rebound for us. He's a different type of player. He understands how to screen and slip and get open and pick and pop. If he keeps rebounding that gives us that guy that backs up Thik when he is in foul trouble or fatigued. For us right now, that's a big key. Who will be the backup center? I think since SIUE, you've seen a great bit of confidence in Rudy.s
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