Loyola wins a dog fight over Salukis 44-39

By Brandyn Wilcoxen, Staff Reporter

 

Southern Illinois (10-11, 3-6 in MVC) played the former top-25 team close, but ultimately fell 44-39 to the Valley-leading Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (16-3, 7-1 in MVC) at the Banterra Center.

Thursday’s loss marks the sixth in seven games for Southern Illinois, who have slumped down to a below .500 record overall. It is also their second loss in three days to the Ramblers, their first being a 59-47 loss on Tuesday in Chicago.

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The game was characterized by physical play that saw both teams fighting for every possession. A low-scoring game that focused on playing inside, crashing the boards, and bleeding the shot close is a strategy that coach Bryan Mullins sees as SIU’s identity.

“That was a ‘Sunday, CBS, St. Louis’ type game,” Mullins said. “It’s extremely physical. Our guys didn’t break, our guys didn’t back down one ounce.”

Like their encounter on Tuesday, both teams struggled shooting the ball throughout. However, unlike Tuesday, neither team managed to kick it into gear. Loyola finished with 31% shooting, while SIU shot 29%.

Their struggles were made even more apparent from three. The teams combined for 10% shooting from distance. Southern Illinois contributed 13 misses to only one make.

“This team’s capable of scoring many points easily,” Mullins said of his team’s offense. “…we just haven’t put stretches together.”

Junior guard Lance Jones gave his team 12 points, the only Saluki who shot better than 40% (min. 3 attempts). His points mostly came on drives to the basket, which the Southern offense relied on heavily on Thursday night.

Once again struggling from the field was junior forward Marcus Domask, who shot 4-18 including 0-3 from three point range. He has shot 26% over his last four games, including what has become a three-game losing streak.

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However, the Salukis were rock solid on defense, holding Loyola – a team that averages 76 points per game – to its lowest point total since a Feb. 5, 2020 game against Indiana State. Unlike that game, the Ramblers came out on top against the Salukis.

“We’ve gotta have that defensive effort every single night,” Mullins said. “We’ve gotta play better offensively, but defensively, if we do that, it’s gonna be a fun second half of the season.”

Junior forward J.D. Muila had perhaps his best game of the season, grabbing nine rebounds along with four points, a steal, and a block.

“The defense was pretty good, the rebounding was also good,” Muila said. “It wasn’t enough to get the win, so we’ve just gotta keep working hard and keep getting better every day.”

Despite their shooting woes, the Salukis grabbed a 21-19 lead just before halftime. They kept that lead for most of the second half, but after Muila went down with a cramp, the Salukis went cold on offense. They allowed Loyola’s leading scorer, guard Lucas Williamson, to get on the board and give the Ramblers a lead they would never relinquish.

Looking back on Thursday’s game, the Salukis will see many missed opportunities to put away a team that looks to be on their way to March. The game began with both teams combining for 2-19 shooting in the first seven minutes of play, and ended with the Salukis on a 2-16 drought.

Despite most of their recent outings being tightly-contested, the Salukis have a 2-6 record in the month of January to show for it. The team is confident that heading into the final month of the regular season, they will be able to right the ship and get some much needed Valley victories.

“We’re gonna turn this thing around,” Muila said.

The combined point differential of SIU’s three home losses this season is seven. Each of these games could have gone the other way, and the team tends to struggle down the stretch. It is something to focus on as the second half of the Missouri Valley Conference schedule begins.

“We have a great offensive team,” Mullins said. “We have guys who can really score the ball, guys who can really shoot it, and we’ll make sure they’re successful on the offensive end.”

The Salukis will continue their homestand on Sunday as they host the Valparaiso Beacons (10-11, 3-6 in MVC), who have lost five of their last seven games.

Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Brandyn_2020

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