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

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Royal Flush: Johnson’s 21 leads Salukis past Queens University

Xavier+Johnson+%2810%29+dribbles+the+ball+down+the+court+as+he+is+guarded+by+Deyton+Albury+%2813%29+of+Queens+University+Nov.+10%2C+2023+at+Banterra+Center+in+Carbondale%2C+Illinois.+
Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto
Xavier Johnson (10) dribbles the ball down the court as he is guarded by Deyton Albury (13) of Queens University Nov. 10, 2023 at Banterra Center in Carbondale, Illinois.

Xavier Johnson had a second half to remember on Friday night, as he led his Salukis to a 91-68 blowout win over Queens University in front of a full house at Banterra Center to cement a 2-0 start to the men’s basketball season.

Johnson led the team with 21 points and six assists. When he wasn’t making buckets with ease in the second half, Johnson was creating shot opportunities for others with excellent court vision and highlight hustle plays.

“We talked about just playing harder than the other team,” Johnson said. “We wanted to get first to the 50/50 balls, and I think that’s what we did tonight, and that’s a big part of why we won.”

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Johnson entered halftime with just four points, all on free throws. After the break, he went on a tear with a three-pointer to open and a converted and-1 on the next possession, which helped the Salukis get into rhythm quickly after a slow start at the beginning of the game.

“I was proud of how we came out at halftime…” head coach Bryan Mullins said. “Our guys had a great poise, maturity about them to be able to stretch that lead.”

The senior point guard finished 5-for-5 from the field in the second half, and tallied five of his six assists after the break. It seemed as if anything Johnson would have thrown up would have found the bottom of the net.

“I thank my teammates and the coaches for believing in me each and every night to shoot the ball,” Johnson said. “They instill a lot of confidence in me, so that just helps me be confident shooting the ball.”

Many of his points came on free throws, where he was a perfect 9-for-9 from the charity stripe. The team as a whole shot 19-for-23 from the line, improving upon one of their biggest struggles from their win on Monday night.

“We always want to shoot more free throws, and make more free throws than the other team,” Johnson said. “And that’s what we did tonight, so just a lot of work, shooting our free throws and practicing that so we’re ready at the line.”

Kennard Davis Jr. (30) goes up for a layup as he is guarded by Jacobi Sebock (1) of Queens University Nov. 10, 2023 at Banterra Center in Carbondale, Illinois. (Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto )

The Salukis shined in the turnover battle, as they scored 26 points off 16 Royals turnovers. Freshman Kennard Davis Jr. tallied three steals, leading the team’s total of eight on the night.

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“I thought we won a lot of 50/50 balls. I thought we were the first to the floor a lot,” Mullins said. “And that’s who we’ve got to be. That’s what wins.”

Also in double figures were Scottie Ebube, A.J. Ferguson and Clarence Rupert. Against the Royals’ smaller lineup, the big men were able to rack up the points on Friday night.

“They were able to get good position down there,” Mullins said. “We need those guys to convert for us in the paint, and I thought both games so far, they’ve done a good job.”

It is said that in a casino, the house always wins. And recently, the same is true for SIU in non-conference games at Banterra Center. Southern has won 21 such contests in a row dating back to November 2019. Part of the reason for that success is the team’s ability to draw a passionate crowd.

“It’s a great atmosphere for our guys to play in,” Mullins said. “They put a lot of work in, so I know they appreciate being able to play in that type of atmosphere.”

As part of promotions for the night, the Dawg Pound ran a tuition raffle since 2,000 students attended the game. Another incentive for that goal was athletic director Tim Leonard’s head being shaved, which occurred at halftime.

Southern will return to action on Thursday, Nov. 16 as it hosts Chicago State ahead of both teams’ Thanksgiving break trips to Cancun, Mexico. Tipoff for the Chicago State game is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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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