ST. LOUIS – Deion Lavender experienced a rush of emotions playing his first collegiate basketball game for Southern Illinois University Carbondale on Saturday night at Chaifetz Arena.
Mostly, it was a mixed bag of them.
The 6-foot-3 freshman guard, a standout at Marquette Catholic, exhibited steady play during his 15 minutes of action. Nevertheless, the Salukis dropped their season opener to Saint Louis University, 62-59, in front of 10,015 fans.
“It’s nice to play here, but I would have liked to get a win,” Lavender said afterward. “We led the whole game, but when you are 13 of 23 from the free throw line, you aren’t going to win.”
The Billikens, beating the Salukis for the fifth consecutive time, trailed 56-51 with 3:59 remaining. Yet SLU outscored SIUC 11-3 the rest of the way and improved its series advantage to 29-24 against the Salukis.
Austin McBroom’s 3-pointer with 10 seconds to play gave the Billikens a 60-57 lead and they held on for the win. McBroom led all scorers with 24 points, including five treys.
“Austin is good at changing speeds and he can knock down shots when he is open,” SLU coach Jim Crews said of the quick 5-9 junior guard.
SIUE coach Barry Hinson said, “Kudos to Saint Louis and the big crowd. What a great atmosphere.”
Lavender had family and friends cheering for him, including his mom and dad, high school coach Steve Medford and fellow Explorers.
“I wasn’t nervous or anxious,” Lavender said. “The two exhibition games we played took care of any butterflies.”
He played 15 minutes against SLU and didn’t score, missing a pair of 3-point shots. Lavender also had a rebound.
“There’s not anything that’s too different from playing high school basketball,” Lavender said. “But the guys are bigger, faster and stronger. You always have to be focused, ready to play and make adjustments.”
Part of the adapting process is coming off the bench and sharing time. At Marquette, the Explorers depended heavily on Lavender and expected him to lead the way.
“It’s definitely an adjustment where you are coming in off the bench,” he said. “You have to be ready all the time. I have to be more aggressive all the time and not play like a freshmen.”
Hinson has high hopes for Lavender on a team that is considered a work in progress. Improvement is the name of SIUC’s game – for everybody.
“I think that Deion can really score,” Hinson said. “When I say score, I mean all parameters. He can shoot the basketball, shoot off the dribble and play in transition.
“Deion's issue is going to be like every other incoming freshman: How do I guard? That is the biggest thing that we are working on right now. When you have six freshmen and three sophomores, we have to get better defensively.”
Chaz Glotta, a 6-1 guard from St. Louis, is another freshman in the blend of players. Armon Fletcher, a 6-6 freshman from Edwardsville, is redshirting.
“There will be growing pains early in the season because we’re still puppies, not dogs yet,” Hinson said. “But I saw some good things tonight, too.”
Sean O’Brien (15 points) and Anthony Beane (14 points) paced the Salukis at SLU. However, Beane, beset by foul woes, played just 19 points. Teammate Jalen Pendleton, also hampered by foul problems, played only 17 minutes and scored six points.
SLU went 27-7 last season, though the Billikens appear to be like the Salukis in rebuilding their program. SIUC went 14-19 a year ago.
“They are young like us, but not quite as young,” Hinson said. “Isn’t this series going to be fun? I can’t wait for them (Billikens) to come to Carbondale next year.”
He'd love to see the Salukis play the Billikens home-and-home each year.
"It's just my thoughts, but maybe Saint Louis would think about getting (back) into the Missouri Valley Conference some time," Hinson said. "With the crowd and atmosphere we had tonight, I'm wondering about that."