Salukis bounce back in a get-right game over Valparaiso

By Brandyn Wilcoxen, Staff Reporter

Southern Illinois (11-11, 4-6 in MVC) carried last week’s defensive performance against Loyola-Chicago into the weekend, ending in a 77-55 rout over the Valparaiso Beacons (10-11, 3-6 in MVC) at the Banterra Center.

The win pushes the Salukis to 8-3 at home this season, and snaps a three-game losing streak. It also snapped a dry spell for the offense, as the team shot over 50% from the field including an 18-30 first half.

“With a lot of close games, a lot of games that we played where the offensive end of our game wasn’t really there, I feel like we were due for one,” junior guard Lance Jones said.

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Jones shot 80% from the field and 5-6 from three point range, contributing a season-high 22 points in the win. His shots falling played a lot into why the team shot 52% from three in Sunday’s game.

“Every shooter that sees those first couple go in, they get the ultimate confidence,” Jones said.

Head coach Bryan Mullins talked after last Thursday’s Loyola game about the need for his players to continue to shoot with confidence despite having struggled for the past several games including that night. That mindset paid off on Wednesday, as the Salukis scored more points in the first half on Sunday (43) than they did in the entire game on Thursday (39).

Sophomore center Kyler Filewich and junior forward J.D. Muila combined for 23 points and 15 rebounds, providing the Salukis a dominant presence in the paint.

“Those two guys are huge for us,” Mullins said. “You’ve got to have a guy who can score with his back to the basket. You’ve got to be able to put pressure on the rim and score in the paint in this league, because teams will just take away shooters if you don’t have one.”

Defensively, the Salukis continued their stellar performance from Thursday’s loss to Loyola by forcing a 13:7 turnover-to-assist ratio. Valpo particularly struggled from distance, shooting 3-19 from three-point range.

For Southern Illinois, the win displays how they can take over a game by combining a physical defensive game with high-octane shooting threats.

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“That’s how we’ve got to be able to win games, is through our defense,” Mullins said. “Once we can limit them to one shot, we can get on a run and hopefully play with pace like we did today.”

As the calendar turns to February, the Salukis are in the bottom half of the Missouri Valley Conference standings. However, the team is confident that it can put together more games like Sunday night as they try to turn around their below .500 Valley record.

“We just gotta take it one game at a time,” Mullins said. “We’ve got a huge challenge Wednesday night against Missouri State.”

The rest of their games this week includes hosting the Missouri State Bears (16-7, 7-3 in MVC), a team that handed the Salukis their first Valley loss, and more recently did the same to the Valley-leading Loyola Ramblers. After that game on Wednesday, they will visit Illinois State (10-12, 3-6 in MVC) on Saturday in their first meeting of the season.

“Every game at home, you feel confident,” Jones said of the Missouri State game. “They’re a good team. They’re hot right now, but every game is gonna be a battle in the Valley.”

Whether or not the Salukis will be able to put together a stretch of games like the one against Valpo remains to be seen. However, seeing a glimpse of what the team is capable of should give hope for a program that has struggled to play a complete game so far in 2022.

“I think we needed a win, just because our guys are sick of losing,” Mullins said. “I believe in this team. I know what this team is capable of doing. We never doubted ourselves.”

Wednesday’s game against Missouri State at the Banterra Center will tip off at 8 p.m.

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

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