Southern Illinois rides big second half to ring in 2023 with a win


Lylee Gibbs @lyleegibbsphotography

Thousands of balloons rain down on the packed stadium of over 7,000 attendees for the New Year’s Saluki Bash game against Belmont University Jan. 1, 2023 at the Banterra Center in Carbondale, Ill.

Saluki men’s basketball started the new year off right, as it took care of the Belmont Bruins (9-6, 2-2) on a New Year’s Day showdown. While it struggled in the first half and trailed at the break, Southern had a big second half en route to a 63-45 win.

Belmont entered Sunday having only scored fewer than 70 points in a game three times, and never fewer than 63. Along with a season-low in points, the Bruins also set low marks in field goal percentage and three-point shooting: 32.7% and 18.2% respectively.

In the first half, the Salukis had as difficult of a game offensively as the Bruins did. Their 0-for-10 performance from three-point range marked their worst in a half this season. Similar to previous outings, the team was once again kept in the game by its defensive efforts, which held Belmont to just a 28-23 halftime lead.


Southern contrasted that deficit with a second-half surge that displayed perhaps the best half the team could put together. The Salukis dominated on the scoreboard, outscoring Belmont 40-17 while making more than half their shots and four out of nine three-point attempts – both are the highest marks against a Division I opponent since Dec. 10.

SIU played host to a large audience both at the Banterra Center and across the country. Sunday afternoon’s game against Belmont drew more than 7,000 fans to Carbondale, and was featured on ESPNU.

Before such a crowd, Southern showed glimpses of what it has been over the first two months of the season, and what it has the potential to be as the Valley season ramps up.

Lance Jones and Marcus Domask served as the team’s usual scoring leaders, combining for 30 points. Jones flexed his defensive prowess, racking up three steals against just one turnover committed.

The big man duo of JD Muila and Clarence Rupert put together another solid afternoon. Muila led the team with nine rebounds, while Rupert scored nine points and blocked three shots to go with five rebounds of his own.

While the calendar has changed, the Salukis have carried their winning streak into 2023. Sunday’s win was their sixth in a row, and moved them to 11-4 on the season including 3-1 in conference play. Their only loss was to Indiana State, which stands alone as the 4-0 Valley leader.

Southern’s next test might be the biggest of the season thus far, as the team will host Drake (11-4, 2-2) on Wednesday. The Bulldogs beat the Salukis three times last season, including SIU’s quarterfinal exit from the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, and were heavy preseason favorites to win the conference.


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

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