Saluki Basketball Hopes to get their season on track with home opener against Austin Peay

By Cole Daily, Staff Reporter

To open up the Salukis’ home schedule, they will host the Austin Peay Governors on Friday, Nov. 12. This home opener is nicknamed the “Charles Helleny Tip-off Classic”.

Helleny was a major donor for the Southern Illinois basketball program, who died at 84 on Aug. 7, 2019. The Salukis basketball program named their season opener the “Charles Helleny Tip-off Classic” in his memory. 

Helleny was a former President of the Herrin Bank, located in Herrin, IL. He became a fan of the Salukis after watching Walt Frazier play for the program, from 1963-1967.


SIU heads into this game after losing an upset, 69-66, to Arkansas at Little Rock on Tuesday, Nov. 9. Junior guard Trent Brown said this game hurt to start the season, and the team will need to be better on Friday. 

“It just comes down to taking care of the ball, trusting one another and keep finding each other for good shots,” Brown said. 

Junior forward Marcus Domask said the main reason behind the Salukis’ loss was the turnovers. The team had 23 of them on Tuesday. 

“It really comes down to focusing and having poise. We got sped up, so we were being careless with the ball and throwing it places we shouldn’t have,” Domask said. 

It will be hard for the Salukis to turn things around in just a couple of days, but that’s what Brown said they have to do.

“Our coaches work extremely hard to prepare us in every possible way. They let us know exactly what we’re going up against, so we’ll be ready to go,” Brown said.

There were positives to take from Tuesday’s game. Domask said some players have made big improvements from last year. 


“Steven (Verplancken) played really well last game. He did a great job getting to his spots and not turning the ball over,” Domask said. 

Head Coach Bryan Mullins said it was good for his team to be tested early by going on the road in a tough matchup. 

“We’re going to be tested in our next few games against Austin Peay and against Colorado as well,” Mullins said, “It’s good to have these because if your not tested in the non-conference games, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening once you get into the (Missouri) Valley Conference schedule.”

Despite the need to make improvements, Brown said SIU is excited to move onto their next game. 

Domask said the Salukis couldn’t be more thrilled to play in front of their home crowd. 

“We’re really excited. The Banterra Center always gets very loud when all the fans are in there. We wanna show out in front of our fans and get our first win of the new season,” Domask said.

Brown said the home environment makes it easier to put points on the board and keep their momentum rolling. 

“It can feel like the world is caving in on our opponents when they come to the Banterra Center,” Brown said, “Not only are we bringing energy and producing, but there are so many other things going on that it makes it harder for the other team to communicate and get going.” 

For the Salukis’ next game, they will try to stick to their strengths. Domask said playing out of control led to the high number of turnovers last game, so this game is all about being calm and collected. 

“We obviously turned the ball over a little too much in our last game. But overall, I think our ball movement was really impressive and we had a lot of great shot opportunities,” Domask said, “Hopefully we can do that without the bad turnovers.” 

Austin Peay is somewhat of a wild card in terms of their gameplan, because this is the coaches’ first time going up against the Governors.  Mullins said SIU hopes to be able to get the Governors off their rhythm because of their ability to play as a team. 

“Our biggest strength is our connected-ness on both sides of the ball. Playing off-ball, playing as a team, playing unselfish and helping each other out on defense,” Mullins said. 

 Governors’ coach Nate James, was a former assistant under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University. Krzyzewski is currently the winningest coach of all-time in the NCAA (1,170 wins), and has five NCAA championships. 

Brown said SIU has the utmost respect for James, but the Salukis are not intimidated by the Governors. 

“They clearly went out and got him for a reason. He’s a good coach at a good program. But at the end of the day, when the ball is tipped, I always believe we’ll go out and get the win,” Brown said. 

Next weekend, from Nov. 19-22, SIU will travel to the Virgin Islands and play in the annual “Paradise Jam”. The “Paradise Jam” is a basketball tournament held in the beginning of the season to help teams get quality wins under their belt. 

With programs like Colorado, Creighton, Arizona and others participating in the tournament, a big win at home could help propel SIU to success in the Virgin Islands. 

“We definitely don’t want to head into the tournament 0-2. This is a big game for us so we have to get one in the win column to build momentum,” Domask said. 

Mullins said, as for right now, the Salukis need to focus on the game ahead. If they get caught thinking too much in the future, it can lead to a lack of preparation.

“In terms of our toughness, and playing winning basketball, that’s where I think we need to play at a consistently high-level. Especially if we want to be a championship team this year,” Mullins said.

Sports Reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected]

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