Arch Madness: Salukis survive and advance to semifinals, defeat Missouri State 54-51


Lylee Gibbs @lyleegibbsphotography

5235: Xavier Johnson (10) holds a three up towards the stands packed with Saluki fans when the Salukis take on the Bears of Missouri State in The Valley tournament Mar. 3, 2023 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

Southern Illinois made its Arch Madness debut on Friday night, taking a thrilling 54-51 win over the sixth-seeded Missouri State Bears, moving on to the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. They will move on to face the Drake Bulldogs on Saturday night.

“When we first met in the summer, we talked about winning championships,” Troy D’Amico said. “We didn’t get to win a regular season championship, so this is all we have now. So I think putting ourselves in that position would be huge for us.”

The Salukis were led by Marcus Domask with 17 points and four assists, as well as Xavier Johnson, who shot 5-for-7 and swiped three steals.


Marcus Domask (10) jumps back to shoot against Donovan Clay (5) of Missouri State in The Missouri Valley tournament Mar. 3, 2023 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri. (Lylee Gibbs @lyleegibbsphotography)

Another notable performance came at the hands of Troy D’Amico, who scored 10 points that included a three-pointer off a Johnson steal to give the Salukis a two-possession lead heading into the final media timeout.

“It’s March, so it’s obviously win or go home,” D’Amico said. “That was just a big moment. Got me fired up, got the team fired up.”

However, Southern would commit three straight turnovers in the closing minutes, allowing the Bears to pull within one, 52-51. Domask’s two free throws late put the game just out of reach, and kept the Dawgs in St. Louis for one more day.

Domask’s free throws to seal the win weren’t necessarily freebies. The Salukis shot just 52% from the line, making 13 of their 25 attempts. That included a 5-for-12 first half at the line.

Whether that low figure is due to adjusting to the Enterprise Center, or the Salukis having an off night, it’s something that’s going to have to improve as they progress in the conference tournament.

“We’ve been a pretty good free throw shooting team throughout this year,” head coach Bryan Mullins said. “So I think, just in terms of tonight, I’m sure our guys will be ready tomorrow. Step up and shoot it with confidence.”

While the game came down to the wire, it didn’t seem like it would at first. Missouri State led by as much as 13 with seven minutes left in the first half, but was held scoreless for the final 6:29 to allow the Salukis a chance to cut the lead to just five by halftime.


Xavier Johnson (10) shoots from the three against the Bears of Missouri State in The Valley tournament Mar. 3, 2023 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri. (Lylee Gibbs @lyleegibbsphotography)

“We just came together that one timeout and said ‘we’ve got to go on a run right now’,” Domask said. “We didn’t want to be down 10 at the half. We went on that run, and then the talk in the locker room at halftime was, they played their best, we didn’t play that good, and now it’s our turn.”

That defensive effort to end the first half was replicated later when the Salukis held Missouri State scoreless for a seven-minute stretch capped off by D’Amico’s three-pointer with 2:20 left in the game. By then, the lead had permanently shifted in SIU’s favor.

“We were able to keep them in front, and have good physicality,” Mullins said.

Bryan Mullins yells out across the court to the Salukis when they take on the Bears of Missouri State in The Missouri Valley tournament Mar. 3, 2023 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri. (Lylee Gibbs @lyleegibbs photography)

During the second half, Missouri State shot 0-for-8 from three-point range. That provided a boost for the Salukis, whose top two scorers in Domask and Lance Jones were a combined 1-for-10 from three.

“Just having good ball pressure and just not giving them any easy looks,” Mullins said. “I thought all their threes were contested… That was a big emphasis going into this game.”

Despite committing three turnovers in the closing minutes, the Salukis still dominated in the turnover battle with a 17-10 margin in their favor. It helped balance out a rebounding margin that went 34-29 in favor of Missouri State, including four extra offensive rebounds for the Bears.

“They’re a great offensive rebounding team, so we knew that was going to be a challenge for us,” Mullins said. “But we couldn’t lose the turnover battle and lose the offensive rebounding battle and give them 10-15 more shots than we got.”

As noted, Lance Jones had a night to forget on the floor. His 1-for-11 shooting night was a far cry from how he had played the final two games of the regular season, and will need to be something that corrects itself if the Salukis are to continue on their Arch Madness journey.

Southern also showed weakness in closing out the game. Two of their three turnovers came during Missouri State’s press, while the team had three timeouts at its disposal. Mullins also declined to sub during that stretch, putting faith in the players on the floor that would not come back to haunt them.

On to Drake

In March 2022, Drake defeated SIU in what was their fifth straight win against the Salukis, sweeping the season series and eliminating them from that year’s Arch Madness tournament. Now, Southern will have a chance to rectify that loss, while propelling themselves into Championship Sunday for the first time since 2007.

“Obviously, they knocked us out last year, so that doesn’t sit well with us,” D’Amico said.

It will not come easy for Southern Illinois. Although they won the first contest against Drake 53-49 on Jan. 4, the Bulldogs stomped the Salukis in the rematch 82-59 on Feb. 11.

“It’s a big game,” Domask said. “We want to beat the best teams. We want to show that we’re the best team, so to do that, you’ve got to beat the best teams. And I think Drake is obviously one of them.”

Tyler Lawrence celebrates alongside the Dawg Pound when the Salukis take on the Bears of Missouri State in The Missouri Valley tournament Mar. 3, 2023 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri. (Lylee Gibbs @lyleegibbsphotography)

Drake is led by the MVC Player of the Year in Tucker DeVries, as well as All-Valley First Teamer Roman Penn.

Penn was a major factor in both games; shooting 1-for-15 in Drake’s losing effort, then put up 21 points in the rematch to lead the Bulldogs in scoring.

Also notable for the Bulldogs is 6’10 senior Darnell Brodie, who grabbed double-digit rebounds in both of Drake’s games against the Salukis. He will prove to be a size disadvantage against the 6’8 JD Muila and Clarence Rupert, and might require an appearance from 6’10 Scottie Ebube.

Tipoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, and will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.

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

Sports reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected]

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