Senior night a story of redemption and resilience as SIU routs Northern Iowa


Mo Collar | @m0.alexander

Lance Jones scores a point at the Banterra Center Jan. 14, 2023 in Carbondale, Ill.

After being held scoreless on Sunday, senior guard Lance Jones suited up for one final game at the Banterra Center Wednesday night. A few hours later, he was soaking in one of many standing ovations after playing one of his best games ever in a Saluki jersey.

Southern Illinois ran away with a 86-63 rout of the Northern Iowa Panthers (13-16, 9-10) on Wednesday, to improve to 21-9, 13-6 on the season. The win came as SIU was celebrating its seniors in what could be their final home game of their careers.

Jones reemerged as the team’s brightest star under the lights at the Banterra Center. He finished with a season-high 28 points, and made his final 10 shots including a perfect 9-for-9 second half. His night ended with three consecutive three-pointers, giving the fans one last chance to soak in Lance Jones at his best.


“It felt amazing. It felt surreal,” Jones said. “I think words just can’t describe how this night felt for me.”

Saluki fans were left puzzled by his scoreless outing against Bradley on Sunday, as he was limited to only 16 minutes on an 0-for-6 shooting performance. Jones admitted that he was in the midst of a family tragedy, which impacted his play on the court that afternoon.

“I had an auntie that just passed away to breast cancer, so there was a lot on my mind,” Jones said. “Things at home have kinda taken a toll on me a little bit.”

Head coach Bryan Mullins added that the team took concern with how Jones was feeling in the days following his aunt’s passing. After what Mullins called “one of his better practices… in a long time,” Jones seemed more ready than ever on Wednesday night.

“Just having the team behind me, and their support, just means the world to me,” he said.

After Jones hit his third consecutive three-pointer within a two-minute span late, he celebrated with his teammates. The Saluki faithful showered them with all of the adoration they had left, as he and his fellow seniors checked out for the final time.

“The fans are unbelievable,” Jones said. “They show up and show out every game. Win or lose, they’ve got your back. I can really say I feel like they believe in me for sure.”


The other star of this Saluki class is forward Marcus Domask, who finished with 24 points. During the pregame ceremony, Domask was recognized as perhaps one of the best players in program history; a history which includes nine former NBA players and 53 Saluki Hall of Famers.

“I just feel like ever since I’ve been here, me, my family, we’ve all been treated so special,” Domask said. “I just never saw a reason to leave.”

Domask’s box score might not stick out as much when listed among his season stats, but it represented a consistency that Southern Illinois has benefited from over the course of his four years.

“We’ve taken a lot of shots in that gym,” he said. “To hit them on a night like this when everybody’s kinda celebrating us a little more, it means a lot.”

Trent Brown began the season with a photoshoot that saw himself, Jones and Domask standing side-by-side. Footage of that shoot could be seen in the pregame hype package before every Saluki contest this year. However, as 2022 turned into 2023, Brown saw his role diminish.

After starting the first 17 games of the season, Brown was benched in favor of Jawaun Newton in mid-January. The decision came in the middle of what would be a 39-day span where Brown went scoreless in 15 attempts across eight games.

On Wednesday, Brown returned to the starting lineup, and he repaid that move with an 11-point outing, tying his season high. The Scottsdale, Arizona, native also had the honor of making the first shot of the night for SIU, triggering the confetti cannon that the Dawg Pound has utilized in every men’s basketball game this year.

“It’s a big time confidence boost,” Brown said. “As shooting goes, as a lot of people know, it’s a confidence game, so that was really big for me.”

Despite all of the struggles he had gone through this year, Brown showed what he was capable of in his final night at the Banterra Center. In doing so, he shined just as bright as the two stars he had stood next to; the stars he called his best friends.

“They [Domask and Jones] have been with me through a lot of downs and a lot of ups like I’ve been talking about,” Brown said. “They mean a lot to me, and I know it’s not just a teammate thing. I would be friends with them if it weren’t for basketball, and that’s how it’s been able to grow so beautifully.”

JD Muila’s senior season didn’t begin until December 10, as a wrist injury delayed the start of his year. Once Muila was healthy, he and sophomore Clarence Rupert served as a formidable big man duo, and Muila was responsible for much of the production on the defensive side of the ball.

Wednesday marked his first start in 368 days, in recognition of both his contributions to the team and his successful battle back from injury.

Jawaun Newton transferred from Evansville in the summer of 2022 after four years as a Purple Ace. He worked his way into the starting lineup during the season, cementing his spot in January. The final home game in his brief stint as a Saluki saw him score nine points, tally five rebounds and three assists, as well as a steal and a block.

Newton’s versatility defensively on top of helping the offense in ways beyond scoring had been his greatest strength in his short time in Carbondale, and he flexed that on Wednesday.

Also new this year as a senior transfer from George Mason was Xavier Johnson, although he was not recognized during the team’s pregame ceremony. Johnson finished his night with five points, six rebounds and five assists.

Entering Wednesday, Johnson had started every game this season for the Salukis. Although he did not get that opportunity against Northern Iowa in favor of his aforementioned teammates, Johnson still made his presence felt on the court as he elevated the players he had come to gel with in his short time with them.

“They do a lot of things for this program that doesn’t show up on the court, doesn’t show up on the statsheet,” Mullins said. “In terms of our relationship, it’s obviously way more than basketball.”

Wednesday night’s win was a celebration of the outgoing class of Saluki men’s basketball. It was the first class to play the entirety of its time under Mullins, and has thus far turned in one of the best seasons in recent team history; capped off with a spectacular final home game that reminded fans why they became so enamored by the team in the first place.

“The community’s been awesome this year,” Mullins said. “Just in terms of the Banterra Center, how special it is, how big of a part the community plays in our program. The Dawg Pound’s been amazing all year for us. So to go out, last home game and play well, and for the guys to feel the atmosphere, it was great. Special game.”

Three-way tie for the Valley’s third seed

While the Salukis were pouring it on against Northern Iowa, conference rivals Belmont and Indiana State took each other to the limit. Belmont came away victorious, creating a three-way tie between themselves, Indiana State and SIU for third place in the Missouri Valley Conference entering each team’s final regular season games on Sunday.

Southern Illinois will be on the road against UIC (12-18, 4-15) on Sunday at 1 p.m. With a win, the Salukis will clinch the third seed in the Arch Madness tournament and earn a first-round bye.

However, SIU barely escaped with a win just two weeks ago against UIC when the Flames visited Carbondale, so it will be no easy task with the stakes as high as they are.

“UIC’s a really good team,” Jones said. “We’re gonna go in there with a confidence that we can play with anybody. It’s gonna be a hard road game, but I like our chances.”

One thing on their side is the Valley’s tiebreaking procedures, which favor the Salukis in the event of a tie with Belmont and/or Indiana State if it comes down to that.

In the worst-case scenario, a Southern loss and wins by both Indiana State and Belmont would sentence the Salukis to the fifth seed, and force them into an opening round game against the Valley’s worst team – Evansville – instead of receiving a bye into the second round.

Either way, a huge win on senior night will provide a big boost for the team as we wrap up the regular season, and enter win-or-go-home territory.

“You want to go into the conference tournament playing your best ball and feeling great,” Domask said.

The stakes are simple for the Salukis on Sunday: win and secure the best outcome, or lose and allow others to determine their fate. SIU is sure to bring its best to Chicago, and Wednesday night’s win against Northern Iowa is as good of a lead-in as any game could be.

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

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