Salukis close out Murray State for 12th win in 13 games
January 25, 2023
Southern Illinois welcomed Murray State to the Banterra Center for the first time as Missouri Valley Conference opponents, and came away with another huge conference win. The Salukis improved to 17-5, 9-2 following a 68-64 win over the Racers (11-10, 6-5) which saw tempers flare in a packed house of 6,500 fans.
The teams were even in most categories, including turnovers, where each team committed 16. Head coach Bryan Mullins noted the uncharacteristic nature of such a high turnover rate during a span of games where the Salukis have avoided them.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been successful here in the Valley play, is because our turnovers have been way down,” Mullins said. “We had transition turnovers, kinda lazy passes a little bit, and we’ve got to do a better job if we want to keep playing well.”
With the exception of a few Saluki runs, the game was tight for the entire 40 minutes of play. It didn’t seem like it would at first though, as Lance Jones provided six points of SIU’s 8-0 lead just a few minutes in. However, Murray State would battle back and tie it up, which would be a frequent occurrence on Tuesday night.
“We had to grind one out,” Jones said. “They made some good plays down the stretch… but we didn’t put our head down… We just never gave up. We kept winning.”
Jones would finish with 19 points, followed closely by Marcus Domask with 17. While they would finish with their typical double-digit scoring outputs, they both struggled, especially in the first half.
In their absence, Xavier Johnson and Jawaun Newton provided help on both ends of the floor. Newton did so with his cousin, Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones, in the crowd cheering him on.
Johnson finished with nine points, six assists, and four steals; Newton racked up six points and five rebounds. Their contributions came together with Jones’s run first-half run and Domask’s second-half surge to provide a full team effort in what would be a close victory.
“I think that guys like Xavier, Jawaun, Clarence [Rupert], those guys just continue to take steps forward,” Domask said.
Several moments in the final few minutes showed off that team effort. Newton saved a loose ball to give Domask an open three at the top of the key. JD Muila took a key charge to prevent a Murray State basket. Johnson converted three free throws after a shooting foul to give the Salukis a lead they wouldn’t end up relinquishing.
“It’s been the strength of this group. Guys off the bench, guys who start, everyone contributes,” Mullins said.
Tempers flared at several points, starting with double technical fouls just 15 seconds into the second half. It spilled over after the game, with both teams meeting in a heated confrontation before the Racers left the court.
Murray, Kentucky, is just a 90-minute drive from Carbondale, so the regional proximity of the schools adds fuel to what may become a full-blown rivalry in the near future.
“I’m sure, for the next couple years, if we play them in Arch Madness, it’ll be another highly-physical, competitive game,” Mullins said.
In a final stretch where both teams matched each other blow-for-blow, the Saluki offense and defense both stood tall when they needed it most. Close games have become a strength for a Saluki team that found itself on the wrong side of slim margins several times a year ago.
“Losing those close ones are heart-breakers,” Domask said. “So to come out on top in a lot of these so far, it feels good. We’ve just got to continue to get better, so hopefully we don’t win close games, we win blowouts.”
With the win, SIU stays atop the Valley standings at 9-2. They entered Tuesday night in a tie with Belmont, who will play on Wednesday.
Southern will hit the road for back-to-back games upstate, visiting Illinois State (8-13, 3-7) on Sunday and Bradley (13-8, 6-4) on Tuesday. The Salukis beat Illinois State 69-57 on Jan. 14, and has yet to play Bradley this season.
Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BrandynWilcoxen.
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