The Southern Illinois men’s basketball team lost to Illinois State 70-56 Sunday night and gave the Redbirds their first Missouri Valley Conference season win in the SIU Arena.
The Salukis (8-10, 1-6) faced early foul trouble from junior guard Desmar Jackson and sophomore forward Dantiel Daniels. Illinois State (10-9, 1-6) took advantage of SIU’s struggled start as the team connected seven 3-pointers and outrebounded SIU by 12 boards at halftime.
“I’ve been saying this for the last three weeks — These guys are at any moment going to come out of their slump and cause people some issues,” SIU coach Barry Hinson said. “Dan (Muller) was smart, he kept pounding it (inside). “We kept sinking in (defensively), and when we’d sink, Tyler would hit the shot. Choose your poison.”
Senior guard Jeff Early paced the Salukis with 16 points and was one rebound away from a team-high seventh double-double of the season. Early also added two steals, a block and four offensive rebounds against 6-foot-9 senior forwards John Wilkins and Jackie Carmichael.
ISU head coach Dan Muller said his team needed a conference win, but Early proved to be as good as advertised.
“Jeff Early is about as competitive as you get in this league,” Muller said. “At his size, the production he’s getting is awfully impressive. The truth is, they’re not very big. Barry’s working with a short hand a little bit with size.
Early said despite the tough loss, the team will continue to play hard midway through conference schedule.
“We got in a big hole early, and we battled back. We cost ourselves the game in the first half,” he said. “This game won’t affect us too much because we’re already trying to figure out how to beat Northern Iowa.”
Fellow senior guard Kendall Brown-Surles shot more than 50 percent from the field and connected on three of his five 3-point field goals. The Saluki senior scored 13 points and accounted for three steals, but he turned the ball over four times. Brown-Surles hit two clutch 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to give the Salukis a much-needed offensive lift.
“I try to do my part and give us a spark,” he said. “We can come out like that anytime we want, but somehow we didn’t do that tonight.”
Brown-Surles didn’t dish any assists in Sunday’s game and has averaged 2.4 assists per contest this season. He said the offense has been sluggish lately, and it was a challenge to score early in the game without the team’s two leading scorers.
“Our two key players got into foul trouble, and it was hard to replace them,” he said. “We have to find a way to change things up.”
Hinson said his players played poorly for most of the game because they were hesitant.
“There was a lack of confidence to pass or to move or to cut,” he said. “You hold onto it because you’re indecisive.”
The Salukis regained their composure after halftime, raced to a 23-6 scoring run and smothered ISU with a zone press as they forced eight turnovers in the second half.
Hinson said he gave a simplistic speech to his team during halftime.
“I told our guys about the time when I was down 26 and came back to win the game,” he said. “I told them that if we could get the score down to 14 with 10 minutes remaining that we could win the game.”
SIU lessened the gap to 55-44 on freshman guard Anthony Beane Jr.’s layup with 10 minutes left, but the Redbird’s Kaza Keane hit a 3-point bomb to end the Saluki charge.
“I’m not beating these kids up. The kids in the second half played their hearts out,” Hinson said.
The team will compete Wednesday against Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, IA.