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Northeastern-SIU: O'Neil's observations

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- There is but one known commodity for the Northeastern basketball team.

Knowing of Chaisson Allen and stopping him, however, are two very different things.

Saddled with foul trouble the entire game and without a bucket until the second half, Allen took over the game for Northeastern when the Huskies needed him most, sealing a 63-62 victory when he sunk two technical fouls with 2.1 seconds left.

Allen was given the chance to win the game when Southern Illinois went Fab Five. After Allen missed on a jumper, a Saluki player signaled for a timeout. Only problem: SIU didn’t have one and the Salukis were called for excessive timeouts, setting up Allen for the anticlimactic finish for a fairly dramatic game.

Allen, who finished with 12 points, toted four fouls for much of the second half but Southern Illinois couldn’t get the much-needed fifth. Instead Allen, like the Huskies, hung around and when the senior slowly found his shooting touch, things slowly got away from SIU.

But the fact that Northeastern hung around even when Allen couldn’t score is perhaps every bit as important as the final score.

The Huskies are, at best, a work in progress with so little experience to call on. Allen alone averaged more points last season than the rest of his teammates combined.

This was a character-building game for a team searching for its identity. To come on the road for a 10 a.m. ET tip isn’t easy. To do so when the only guy with any game time under his belt is saddled by foul trouble is another.

The Huskies leave Illinois knowing they can compete without Allen doing everything.

And they know when they need him, he’ll be there.

Here are some other observations from Tuesday’s morning game:

  • The Salukis’ defense will keep them in games and it’s critical that Chris Lowery’s trademark returns. Last season, Southern Illinois gave up 65.7 points per game, the most under Lowery’s watch. When the Salukis were good, they were holding opponents well under 60.

  • But as good as that defense can be, if it’s going to win games -- especially the big ones -- Southern Illinois has to be able to score more points. It doesn’t have a sensational bailout star a la years past and will have to get its offense by committee, but it has to get it. The Missouri Valley is just too good to expect to out-grind teams every night unless. Northeastern went zone and the Salukis lost all of their composure. Until they threaten as scorers, that’s going to continue.

  • Equally important for SIU: get the turnovers under control. The Salukis coughed the ball up 18 times against Illinois, understandable against a Top-25 team. They also coughed it up 23 times against Northeastern leading to 20 easy points for the Huskies, a less excusable offense.

  • Gene Teague could grow into something special for the Salukis. The big man, who came on like thunder at the end of his freshman season, is picking up where he left off. He scored 13 against Northeastern but it was more his presence that could be a game-changer. He’s a wide body and almost an immovable force under the basket, accounting for 11 critical rebounds for SIU.

  • As Northeastern searches for someone other than Chaisson Allen to carry the team, Joel Smith is emerging as a good candidate. The sophomore averaged just 1.9 points in limited playing time last season but scored 10 in the season opener and a game-breaking 19 against Southern Illinois while Allen battled foul trouble.