Salukis freeze up against Missouri State; drop seventh in nine games

By Brandyn Wilcoxen, Staff Reporter

Southern Illinois (11-12, 4-7 in MVC) couldn’t keep pace with the Missouri State Bears (17-7, 8-3 in MVC), losing 69-54 on a cold Wednesday night at the Banterra Center.

The Salukis managed to keep pace with one of the Missouri Valley Conference’s best teams, as they traded leads back and forth on their way to a 29-24 halftime score. However, just like the weather outside, SIU went ice cold once again, allowing a 20-3 run in the second half that made all the difference.

During its worst stretch, the team shot 1-12 over a ten minute period. The Salukis were dominated on the glass in the second half, with the Bears grabbing 20 to Southern Illinois’s 10.

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“It kinda snowballed on us,” head coach Bryan Mullins said. “That stretch… where we didn’t play SIU basketball. Offensively, we took a couple questionable shots, and defensively is where we really kinda got disconnected.”

Sophomore Dalton Banks agreed with Mullins’s assessment of the team’s second half dry spell, which was the perfect storm of the Salukis missing most of their shots and the Bears hitting most of theirs.

“I just thought there was a lack of energy, lack of togetherness in the second half,” Banks said. “You can’t have that against a really good team, because all it takes is a couple runs and all of a sudden it’s a 10, 15 point game.”

A pattern during the nearly month-long slump SIU has experienced – seven losses in nine outings – is the absence of its best scorers. Junior Marcus Domask shot 2-10 from the field, and junior Lance Jones was held scoreless in the first half before beginning to find his rhythm later in the game.

“I think he had some good looks early on,” Mullins said of Jones’s first half. “He made a couple passes. I think he had three assists at halftime, which was positive.”

Along with Jones (14) and Domask (nine), Banks had nine points in 24 minutes off the bench. Most of his scoring – as well as Jones’s – came when the game was already pretty much decided.

Missouri State was led by two players who are surely bound to play professionally once their college careers are over: 6’9 forward Gaige Prim, who put up 22 points, shot 9-11 from the field, and grabbed six rebounds to give the Bears a dominant inside presence; and junior guard Isiaih Mosley, who also had 22 points and six rebounds, and was perfect in eight attempts at the charity stripe.

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“They’ve got two high-level iso individual players who don’t need plays called for them,” Mullins said of the Bears’ stars. “Where they can give them the ball and they can just make a play.”

Southern Illinois, on the other hand, does not have stars like Prim and Mosley, who they can trust to put the ball in their hands and score baskets. Domask has not found his shot lately, Jones has been hot and cold, and big men J.D. Muila and Kyler Filewich are not a consistent enough interior presence to platoon them successfully.

Mullins has often characterized his squad as a team of shooters. In recent games against Indiana State and Valparaiso – the only Saluki wins since January 8 – the team has proven that they can string together runs and take over games. But when the shots aren’t falling, as evidenced by their recent record, SIU seemingly has no answer offensively.

“We haven’t shot the ball this well this year,” Mullins said. “But we’ve been in every single game because guys have played extremely hard every possession.”

Perhaps the most telling statistic from Wednesday’s loss is that SIU won the turnover battle 13-7, but Missouri State scored 12 points off turnovers against Southern’s six. Defensively, the Salukis carried over their performance from the past week or so and gave the Bears a run for their money for the entire first half. But the offense never clicked, and Missouri State only stayed down for so long.

“I think we let some of our offense affect our defense, and we can’t be like that,” Mullins said.

Including Wednesday’s loss, the Salukis have lost every game they’ve played against teams ranked above them in the Missouri Valley Conference standings. They have also beaten every team ranked below them, with the exception of their opponent on Saturday night, Illinois State (10-13, 3-7). That bodes well for them, as the rest of their schedule sees them play 4 of their final 7 games against teams ranked below them, but Southern Illinois cannot rest on that fact if they want to make a run in the postseason. If the Salukis go into Arch Madness with an 8-10 Valley record, one can easily predict what will happen when they face a higher-seeded team.

Southern Illinois wins the games they are supposed to, but have not been able to find that second gear to be a threat night in and night out to the top Valley teams. If they can’t figure that out soon, the countdown to the end of Saluki basketball might just be under 30 days.

“We’ve got to flush this one,” Banks said. “We’re gonna play a good team in Illinois State. We have to have two good practices before we go up there so we can get back in the win column.”

Tip-off for Saturday’s game at Redbird Arena in Normal, Illinois is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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

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