The late Harry Gallatin would have been proud to see men’s basketball rivals SIUE and SIUC play again, as they did Dec. 9 in Carbondale.
The Roxana High graduate, who died two months ago, was a fan of both programs. No surprise. He’s the only guy to serve as men’s head basketball coach at Edwardsville and Carbondale.
Fittingly, the Wood River native is in both schools’ Hall of Fame.
So when the Cougars and Salukis clashed more than a week ago for the eighth time in their series history and for the fifth since 2011, it made me wonder:
Could they ever be conference rivals?
Both are Division I programs. SIUC is cast in the Missouri Valley Conference and SIUE is a part of the Ohio Valley Conference for most sports. The MVC features schools from Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Indiana and Kansas. The Salukis have been league members since 1975. The OVC has schools from Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. The Cougars joined it in 2008 after spending years in the D-II Great Lakes Valley Conference.
SIUC has more than 17,000 students, while SIUE has more than 14,000 students.
Each has its own identity, with SIUE considered more of a commuter school, although that perception is changing. And the Cougars are already part of the MVC.
They belong to the Valley in soccer and recently won the conference championship at Korte Stadium. So for them to join the MVC full-fledged at some point would seem reasonable. They truly enjoy the OVC, but the MVC would represent the next step.
“It would take a lot of basketball wins,” pointed out SIUE director of athletics Brad Hewitt, an Alton High graduate. “But our dream at the end of the rainbow is to show progress worthy of the level of the MVC. Our ambition is to elevate our program to that level.”
By the way, the Cougars and Salukis will tangle again next season at the Vadalabene Center. After that, we’ll have to wait and see. It sounds like something worth continuing, especially since the Cougars scored their first win over the Salukis, 76-74, in the latest meeting.
“I’d like to see it extended and feel confident about it,” Hewitt said.
If you want to have a legitimate basketball rivalry, then both teams have to be successful. It can’t be one-sided. That’s why SIUE’s win in Carbondale could prove to be a monumental booster shot for a program in a transition season.
“It’s impressive,” said first-year Cougars’ coach Jon Harris, an Edwardsville High graduate. “It’s something to build on because it’s a program win.”
SIUC didn’t appear shocked by the SIUE victory. In fact, Salukis’ coach Barry Hinson considers the Cougars a dangerous team. OVC foes, beware.
“I saw this coming,” Hinson said. “And I told our guys this would be a tough game.
“They (Cougars) are a rival in our local area and we recruit against these guys. They have four players on their team that we recruited.”
One of them, junior guard Burak Eslik, a Turkey native and transfer from Lewis and Clark Community College, scored a game-high 23 points.
“They beat us on him,” Hinson said of the recruiting process. “He chose to go there instead of SIU. So we knew Eslik would have a big game against us. He scored eight of their first nine points.”
All of the Cougars were at their best against the Salukis. They needed their finest outing to secure a precious win.
“Coach Harris has them playing hard,” Hinson said. “One of the best things they do is rebound the basketball.”
“When I look back at records, I can see that some of their guys have played a lot of games on the road,” Hinson said. “We would have a record similar to theirs if we had played the same schedule.”
The Cougars came into Carbondale with a 1-7 record and seven consecutive losses. The Salukis were 8-1 and aiming for their best start in 24 years.
Thus, SIUE’s win could be one of the most important victories in the 48 years of its basketball program. It also might be the game that stokes the Cougars-Salukis’ rivalry for years.
Let’s hope so. It’s a made-to-order matchup.
• • •
The answer to the Dec. 11 AdVantage News sports trivia question is six. The Alton Redbird boys’ basketball team defeated the Edwardsville Tigers 72-69 in six overtimes in the 1997 AA sectionals at the Vadalabene Center at SIUE. The Birds ultimately fell 60-53 to Mount Vernon in the super-sectionals.
Congratulations to Randy Payne, who answered correctly and wins a $10 voucher to Jack Schmitt Chevrolet in Wood River.
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