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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Pack your bags: Salukis crush Cougars ahead of Cancun Challenge

Men’s basketball starts 3-0 after win over Chicago State
AJ+Ferguson+%2814%29+goes+up+towards+the+basket+as+he+is+guarded+by+Wesley+Cardet+Jr.+%281%29+of+Chicago+State+Nov.+16%2C+2023+at+Banterra+Center+in+Carbondale%2C+Illinois.+
Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto
AJ Ferguson (14) goes up towards the basket as he is guarded by Wesley Cardet Jr. (1) of Chicago State Nov. 16, 2023 at Banterra Center in Carbondale, Illinois.

Junior guard A.J. Ferguson scored a career-high 20 points in the Salukis’ 71-55 win over Chicago State (1-4) on Thursday night, improving to a 3-0 start to their season.

Ferguson earned a spot in the starting lineup to begin the year after playing in just 11 games in 2022-23. Head coach Bryan Mullins credited Ferguson’s work ethic for his recent increase in both playing time and production.

“I think the game experience through the scrimmages, through these first couple of games, you know, that helps tremendously…” Mullins said. “Halfway through last year, he really changed his mindset, his work ethic, and that’s allowed him, I think, to have success here, hopefully throughout this year.”

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Following close behind him in scoring was point guard Xavier Johnson, whose 18 points were boosted by a 10-for-10 night from the free throw line, alongside seven assists and five rebounds.

“I think we’re still a very unselfish team,” Johnson said. “And I think, just having a lot of guys out, we’re still trying to build that chemistry and still trying to play off of each other.”

Clarence Rupert contributed 11 rebounds; five offensive and six defensive. He helped the Salukis dominate the boards, with a 36-26 advantage in that category.

“We’ve talked a lot about impact winning,” Mullins said. “That happens in all different ways, not just scoring. And I think our guys are really bought into that.”

The Saluki offense struggled to get anything going out of the gate, but the defense kept it close. With just over 10 minutes to go in the first half, Chicago State held a 10-9 lead in what looked to be a low-scoring contest even for Southern Illinois standards.

“We’ve got to find different ways to win,” Mullins said. “It was good to grind one out here tonight, to kind of figure some things out.”

Later in the half, Trent Brown and Troy D’Amico began trading three-pointers to put some distance between Southern and Chicago State. They finished with 12 and eight points respectively, with most of their points coming from beyond the arc.

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Troy D’Amico (0) stands next to Jahsean Corbett (24) of Chicago State as they wait on the ball to be thrown back into play Nov. 16, 2023 at Banterra Center in Carbondale, Illinois. (Lylee Gibbs | @lyleegibbsphoto)

 

Both teams would finish with 14 turnovers, but Southern led in points scored off turnovers 18-7. Turning defense into offense has been a point of emphasis for this year’s Salukis, and something that was shown off well on Thursday night.

While the Salukis remain unbeaten through two weeks, it will be a difficult task to maintain that mark the next time they take the floor. Southern will travel to Cancun, Mexico, for a matchup with No. 24 James Madison in what may be the toughest test the Salukis will face this season.

“It’s why we play in these type of tournaments…” Mullins said. “It’ll be a great opportunity for us, and we’ve got to have a good couple days of practice here.”

Tipoff for the first game of the Cancun Challenge is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and will air on CBS Sports Network.

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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