Saluki MBB clinches third seed in Valley with 68-65 win over UIC


Mo Collar | @m0.alexander

Trent Brown and others clap for teammates on the court at the Banterra Center Jan. 14, 2023 in Carbondale, Ill.

The stakes were clear for Southern Illinois entering the regular season finale on Sunday: win and lock up the third seed in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, or lose and let others decide its fate. The Salukis took care of business on their own with a one-possession victory in Chicago against UIC.

Southern woke up on Sunday in a three-way tie for third in the Valley, and could have fallen as far as fifth, which would have forced them into a play-in game on Thursday. An early-afternoon win by Belmont – one of the two teams SIU was tied with – made that all the more possible.

With the win, the Salukis made the math easy, as they clinched the third seed in Arch Madness. Their first game in the MVC Tournament will be on Friday night at 8:30, as they await the winner of Missouri State and UIC the night before at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.


Lance Jones followed up his senior night resurgence with a 19-point outing on Sunday, adding four rebounds, three assists and two steals to his box score. His turnaround from this time last week is a welcome trend heading into the most important games of the season.

“I think this win is a grind-it-out win, and a much needed win for sure, going into Arch Madness,” Jones said.

A native of nearby Evanston, yearly conference trips to former Valley rival Loyola Chicago and newly added UIC represent something of a homecoming for Jones.

“Being back in Chicago, and having everybody come out, it was special for sure,” Jones said.

Fellow senior Marcus Domask had 17 points, five rebounds, and three assists. Despite getting into the double digits yet again, Domask’s offense was anything but efficient. He missed his first seven shots and finished 7-for-23 from the field.

“Marcus had a bunch of really good looks… just didn’t have the touch that he usually has around the rim today,” head coach Bryan Mullins said.

Dalton Banks proved to be a big contributor off the bench. Despite a tough shooting night, Banks led the team in assists (five) and steals (3), as well as grabbing four rebounds.


Banks’ biggest impact came down the stretch. He dished out assists to Jones and Domask in the last minute of the game to keep the Salukis out of striking distance.

He also made a key hustle play, diving for a loose ball to set up a fresh Saluki possession. It was a play Mullins called “one of [his] favorite plays of the year.”

“We talk about ‘loose ball’s our ball’ all the time with our guys,” Mullins said. “That was his ball.”

Another spark off the bench was redshirt freshman Foster Wonders, who has scored in back-to-back games after not doing so since January 14. His six points on 2-for-3 shooting in the first half helped keep the offense afloat while the stars worked to get into gear.

“He works extremely hard. I have a ton of confidence in him,” Mullins said. “Just based on how they [UIC] were playing, I think one of their weaknesses is screening and guarding screening action, and so in terms of having another shooter out there, especially when Marcus wasn’t getting going early in that first half, we needed someone to kinda give us a spark.”

Two crucial separators on Sunday afternoon were bench points (22-2 favoring SIU) and turnovers (13-6 favoring SIU). The Salukis also held UIC to a lopsided assist-to-turnover ratio.

Turnovers had been a weak point for SIU in their last meeting with UIC when the Salukis gave up 21 of them and barely escaped with a win on their home floor. It was a point of emphasis, knowing they wouldn’t be so fortunate on the road.

“They had 23 more shots than us the first game,” Mullins said. “We weren’t gonna be able to win this game here on the road if that was gonna happen. To take care of the ball the way our guys did, that was the difference.”

The Salukis finalize their regular season record at 22-9 overall, 14-6 in conference. Those win totals are the most since 2016 and 2007 in their respective categories. Notably, Mullins was a player on that 2007 team, the most recent Saluki squad to reach the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

Although the regular season will be one to remember, as both the best of Mullins’s young coaching career and the best for the program since he graduated, the focus now turns to postseason play, with Arch Madness just days away.

“We’ve got to get ready for next weekend, and get ready for a long weekend,” Mullins said.

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

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