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Southern Illinois (14-16) vs. Missouri State (10-21)

The Sports Network

DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 7, 9:35 p.m. (et)

FACTS & STATS: Site: Scottrade Center (20,948) -- St. Louis, Missouri. Television: MVC Network. Home Record: SIU 9-4, MSU 8-7. Away Record: SIU 4-11, MSU 2-12. Neutral Record: SIU 1-1, MSU 0-2. Conference Record: SIU 6-12, MSU 7-11. Series Record: Southern Illinois leads, 39-33.

GAME NOTES: The No. 10 seeded Southern Illinois Salukis hope to pull off a first round upset as they take on the seventh seeded Missouri State Bears in Missouri Valley Conference Tournament first-round action on Thursday.

Both sides defended their home court with success during the season series. Missouri State defeated the Salukis, 70-59, in Springfield on Jan. 30 before SIU returned the favor with a 62-54 decision in Carbondale on Feb. 16.

After just one win in their first 12 MVC games this season, the Salukis finished strong with victories in six of their last eight games to arrive at a 14-16 overall record. Since Feb. 13, SIU's only loss came on the road in the MVC regular season champion Creighton's home arena. SIU head coach Barry Hinson will become only the fourth head coach in league history to make 10 or more MVC Tournament appearances, behind Dana Altman (14), Rich Herrin (13) and Jim Molinari (11). Hinson was 11-9 in MVC Tournament games in nine seasons at Missouri State. This will be the fourth straight year that the Salukis are making an appearance in the play-in game.

Jeff Early was the catalyst to SIU's late season improvement. The 6-foot-1 guard netted 20.5 ppg over the last five games and grabbed 7.4 rpg for the season to rank first in the nation in rebounding among players 6-foot-1 or shorter. Despite his unimpressive stature, Early does an excellent job playing power forward. Desmar Jackson was named Honorable Mention All- Conference. He leads the team in scoring (15.2 ppg). SIU's dynamic duo was prevalent in its regular season finale, as Early finished with 26 points and six boards while Jackson scored 15 points to lift the squad to a three-point road win over Drake.

Coach Paul Luck's Bears concluded their regular season 11 games below the .500 mark after losing all 10 of their non-conference matchups with Division I Missouri State has been the worst offensive team in the MVC across the board. The Bears rank last in the league in most offensive categories, including points (59.5 pg), assists (10.4 pg) and field-goal percentage (.404). They are also the worst rebounding team in the league bringing in just 30 boards a game.

Anthony Downing is MSU's clear leader as he paces the squad in scoring (13.7), rebounds (138), assists (85), steals (35) and minutes (34.3). The future looks bright as the second leading scorer, Marcus Marshall, was named MVC Freshman of the Year after producing 10.8 ppg. Keith Pickens, who announced he will retire at the end of the season, has led the Bears in rebounding in six of the last nine games while Christian Kirk has chipped in 10.3 ppg over the past 10 games.

The Salukis are playing well above the level of a standard No. 10 seed as they enter the postseason. Missouri State will need to figure out a way to keep the feisty Early off the boards and also Jackson from getting too many open looks. Downing will have a lot of the weight on his shoulders, as the Bears' next best player will be experiencing the playoffs for the first time in his collegiate career.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Southern Illinois 67, Missouri State 63

03/07 10:31:44 ET