Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Lt. Col. Chay M. Derbigny will become commander and a professor of aerospace studies for Air Force ROTC Detachment 205 at 10 a.m. Friday, June 28, at Saluki Alumni Plaza, located between Woody and Pulliam halls on the SIU campus.
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Off to the races: Salukis leave Kentucky State in the dust

Saluki men’s basketball starts its season 1-0
Xavier+Johnson+%2810%29+dribbles+the+ball+behind+his+back+as+he+is+guarded+by+Brandon+Hill+%283%29+of+Kentucky+State+in+the+season+home+opener+Nov.+6+2023+at+Banterra+Center+in+Carbondale%2C+Illinois.
Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto
Xavier Johnson (10) dribbles the ball behind his back as he is guarded by Brandon Hill (3) of Kentucky State in the season home opener Nov. 6 2023 at Banterra Center in Carbondale, Illinois.

Saluki men’s basketball opened its 2023-24 campaign on Monday night with an emphatic 88-57 win against the Kentucky State Thorobreds at the Banterra Center.

While a win was expected against a Division II opponent in Kentucky State, Monday night was also about getting the team into a rhythm, especially after a summer that saw several injuries delay the team’s typical offseason routine.

“It was good for all of our guys to get in, to play minutes, play in front of the community,” head coach Bryan Mullins said. “It was the first time we had that starting five together since June.”

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The Salukis were led by returning starters Xavier Johnson and Clarence Rupert. Johnson had 20 points, while Rupert recorded a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. They proved a formidable duo as part of the starting unit, highlighted by an assist early in the game from Johnson to Rupert in transition.

“Clarence is great. He has a lot of energy, he can definitely run the floor, so it was great to reward him for running so hard,” Johnson said.

Southern’s new campaign has been characterized by the fresh faces on the court for SIU. Roughly 30% of the minutes were given to players new to the team, including transfers Jovan Stulic, R.J. McGee and Trey Miller, and freshman Kennard Davis Jr. That number grows even more when you consider A.J. Ferguson and Scottie Ebube, who look to have expanded roles and increased playing time from last season.

“Everyone got an opportunity tonight. It was good to see everyone on the court,” Mullins said. “…it’s something that we’ve got to build off of for the rest of the year.”

Stulic ranked second on the team in scoring with 14 points; Ferguson brought in seven rebounds, and Ebube and McGee each grabbed six. Their contributions will be necessary to fill the gaps left behind from last year’s departures such as Marcus Domask and Lance Jones.

“I was in that same position last year,” Johnson said. “So continuing to try to encourage guys. And you know we had a lot of core guys out this summer, so they got thrown into the fire a little bit… I think they’ve done a really good job, and they’re continuing to learn.”

Senior Trent Brown, the longest-tenured Saluki in his fifth season at SIU, had a great second half on the way to a 12-point game on 4-for-5 shooting. He credited his teammates, old and new, with helping him get on track after a relatively quiet first period.

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“He’s [Rupert] the one that really was talking to me and getting me going,” Brown said. “Him and X [Johnson] in the locker room at halftime. I give credit to them a ton. Even Jarrett Hensley on the bench was talking to me a bunch.”

While lost in the final margin, Kentucky State managed to match Southern for the most part in the second half. The Salukis held a 44-19 halftime lead, but only outscored the Thorobreds by six after the break.

“I thought the second half, we didn’t play as connected as we needed to play defensively,” Mullins said. “But offensively, I think it was a pretty complete game…”

Among other factors, the slight shift in fortunes could be attributed to the team’s conditioning, having been hampered by injuries during the summer. Based on Mullins’ unscientific metric of “playing 40 minutes,” meaning that the team is able to play its best basketball for the entire game, the Salukis figuratively fell a little short of that mark on Monday.

“I think as the season progresses, those guys will continue to get their legs and be able to play the way they’re capable of playing for longer minutes,” Mullins said.

The Salukis will have plenty of chances to keep working on their game, especially at home. 10 of their first 14 games will be inside the Banterra Center, starting with a matchup on Friday at 7 p.m. against Queens University of Charlotte.

“It’s the first time we played someone else here because we were on the road for both of our scrimmages,” Mullins said. “So just in terms of getting that first game under our belts, and now, obviously looking forward to Friday, hopefully the guys are a little bit more settled and kinda understand the routine of just what to expect playing at home now.”

Sports editor Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BrandynWilcoxen. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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