Streaky Salisbery is vital to Tournament aspirations

Hidden beneath the surface of the men’s basketball team’s win over Miami Sunday was the play of junior guard Dustin Salisbery. In the box score, he’s listed as just one of four Owls who reached double-digit scoring. But Salisbery was the determining factor to the Owls’ success against the Hurricanes and during stretches last season.

Sure, much of the game’s focus was on the matchup between senior point guard Mardy Collins and Miami’s Guillermo Diaz. Collins and Diaz are their teams’ respective game-breakers. That explains why 24 NBA scout credentials were issued prior to Sunday’s game.

Opponents and scouts know about Collins. They prepare for him. They are also well aware of star-in-the-making Mark Tyndale, whose streaky but all-out style of play creates relentless havoc on opposing teams.

But to create more awareness of what Salisbery means to this team, you need to break down the individual value of the Owls’ other big-time players.

Senior Antywane Robinson is a perimeter threat, but with the temporary absence of a big man, the 6-foot-8 forward is needed inside. Freshman forward Dionte Christmas has a smooth shot, but at this point in his career, his lack of experience is restricting.

These players are critical to the Owls’ success, but Salisbery holds the key to unlocking their four-season NCAA Tournament drought. The truth is, when Salisbery is hitting his shots, he adds a whole new dimension the Owls’ attack. He morphs the Owls from a Tournament pretender into an instant Tournament contender.

Salisbery’s 16-point performance against the Hurricanes reinforced this. Salisbery scored eight of the Owls’ first 20 points, launching the team to a 20-7 lead midway through the first half. The Owls never looked back.

Salisbery’s penchant for sparking the offense is nothing new. In the Owls’ 53-52 win over Villanova last season, Salisbery was prime time. He dropped 15 points, including the game-winning three-point bucket. Just seven days later, Salisbery drained 16 points in the Owls’ near upset of then-No. 18 Alabama.

Salisbery has the ability to hit three-pointers like no one’s business. In his career, he shoots at a 31 percent clip from beyond the arc, but in big games, Salisbery has been huge. He hit all three of his treys on Sunday, against a potential NCAA Tournament team. Last season against Alabama – 4 for 7. How about that one-point win versus Villanova? He was 3 for 6.

But Salisbery’s flaw is in his consistency. He’s hit or miss. For all of the strong showings he’s posted against Tournament contenders, he has had an equal number of no-shows.

Take the Owls’ loss to No. 18 UCLA earlier this month. In 22 minutes, Salisbery took just three shots and missed them all. Against then-No. 6 Wake Forest last season, he went just 3-of-11 from the floor, and missed a potentially game-tying three with two seconds remaining.

When Salisbery’s shot is off, more pressure is on Collins and Tyndale to carry the Owls’ offense. Past performances have shown that Collins and Tyndale cannot knock off tough opponents on their own.

The fact is, they need Salisbery.

Salisbery also has a habit of following a good game with a poor one. He followed his career-best 27-point performance against Dayton last season with a two-point showing against Saint Joseph’s. Likewise after his strong outing versus Alabama, and his lackluster shooting display against Wake Forest.

So for Salisbery, consistency is the answer. If he’s consistent, Collins and Co. could be dancing in March. If he isn’t, the Owls’ legitimate chances at finding themselves in the Tournament will be dashed.

John Kopp can be reached at jpk85@juno.com.

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