Jones drops career-high 31 points in road win over Illinois State

SIU+guard%2C+Lance+Jones%2C+goes+up+for+the+layup++during+SIUs+73-55+win+over+Austin+Peay+during+the+Charles+Helleny+Tip-Off+Classic+on+Friday%2C+Nov.+12%2C+2021+at+the+Banterra+Center+at+SIU.+

Jared Treece | @bisalo

SIU guard, Lance Jones, goes up for the layup during SIU’s 73-55 win over Austin Peay during the Charles Helleny Tip-Off Classic on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 at the Banterra Center at SIU.

Junior guard Lance Jones shot 71% from the field, including 5-6 from three point range, as the Salukis (12-12, 5-7 in MVC) topped the Illinois State Redbirds (10-14, 3-8 in MVC) at Redbird Arena in Normal, Illinois.

Jones’s 31 points on Saturday night was a career high. He was joined in double-figures by junior forward Marcus Domask (18 points) and senior guard Ben Coupet Jr. (12).

“I feel like I was playing with a lot of confidence tonight,” Jones said on the Saluki Radio Network post game. “I thank my teammates first, though. Without them, I don’t feel like I would have gotten the wide open shots I was getting.”

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The team as a whole shot over 50% from the field for only the second time in their last 10 games, en route to a 75-69 road victory that may prove to be crucial in the Missouri Valley Conference standings.

Saturday’s win is the second in their last three outings. SIU has struggled for much of 2022, finishing the month of January with a 3-6 record. If the Salukis are to make a run into March, their first step is to start putting together more complete performances like they did against Illinois State.

“We needed this win,” Jones said. “That was the team motivation heading into this.”

Defensively, the Salukis were able to hold the Redbirds’ leading scorer Antonio Reeves to just eight points. Illinois State kept it close, however, as they scored 19 points off the bench along with 12 points from Liam McChesney – a relative newcomer to the Redbirds starting five after star bigman Sy Chatman’s season-ending injury two weeks ago.

“The guys did a good job not giving them a lot of space,” head coach Bryan Mullins said on the Saluki Radio Network post game. “[The Redbirds] are averaging 80 points a game in their wins, and that’s a hard team to defend.”

Saluki sophomore Dalton Banks joined the starting lineup on Saturday in place of Steven Verplancken Jr., and dished out a career-high seven assists in the win. Additionally, Banks’s added presence helped draw the Redbirds’ attention away from his teammates.

“Dalton’s a really good point guard. He takes pressure off me,” Jones said. “I feel like it kinda opened up my shot a little bit more.”

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The first half saw back-and-forth action with five lead changes and four ties between the two teams. It was capped off by Jones scoring seven points in the final four minutes to round out his first half production at an even 20 points, and Domask turning a Redbird backcourt violation into a layup in the closing seconds to bring his halftime total to 10.

“[Jones and Domask] got us going in that first half,” Mullins said. “Both of them, offensively, had a good rhythm. Lance was shooting the ball well, and Marcus had some really nice drives.”

SIU never relinquished its lead in the second half, although Illinois State brought it to within two after a 9-0 Redbird run with just under seven minutes to go. The Salukis experienced a few scoring droughts lasting a couple minutes each, but held up defensively to maintain their lead until the final buzzer.

Despite being a road game for the Salukis, the team was able to bring a bit of home with them, as the Dawg Pound made a bus trip to Normal to cheer on SIU from section 230 of Redbird Arena. “S-I-U” chants could be heard on the ESPN+ telecast, and the visiting student section was acknowledged by the broadcast. The Salukis recognized the Dawg Pound as they left the court following the victory.

“It felt like the Banterra Center at times,” Mullins said of the student section’s impact on the game. “That’s what makes this place so special, and I appreciate it.”

With the first night of Arch Madness just 26 days away, every Valley game for the rest of the season is crucial in the battle for seeding. This is especially true for the Salukis, who control the sixth seed in the conference. Seeds 7-10 will have play-in games obran Thursday, March 3, while the top six seeds receive a bye into the quarterfinals beginning the next day.

Saturday’s road win puts some distance between SIU and the teams behind them, including Illinois State. The Salukis now hold wins over every team ranked below them, and finished a season sweep against the current seventh seed Valparaiso (11-12, 4-7), who sits just a half-game back of Southern Illinois.

“Every Valley win is so significant,” Mullins said. “You’re playing for St. Louis.”

The Salukis will finish their road trip on Wednesday, paying a visit to Northern Iowa (13-9, 9-3 in MVC), who beat SIU by a single point in their January meeting at the Banterra Center. They will then return to Carbondale for a two-game homestand starting with a game against Evansville (5-16, 1-9 in MVC) on Saturday, February 12.

Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Brandyn_2020. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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