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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Salukis cut down No. 23 Sycamores for first ranked win since 2013

Clarence+Rupert+%284%29+waves+the+SIU+flag+in+a+crowd+of+Saluki+players+and+fans+as+the+Salukis+take+down+No.+23+Indiana+State+at+home+Feb.+17%2C+2024+at+Banterra+Center+in+Carbondale%2C+Illinois.
Simeon Hardley
Clarence Rupert (4) waves the SIU flag in a crowd of Saluki players and fans as the Salukis take down No. 23 Indiana State at home Feb. 17, 2024 at Banterra Center in Carbondale, Illinois.

SIU men’s basketball (17-10, 9-7) pulled off one of the best upsets in years on Saturday night, taking down No. 23 Indiana State (22-5, 13-3) at a packed Banterra Center for the team’s first ranked win since 2013.

Although Sycamore center Robbie Avila led the game with 30 points on the night, Saluki guard Xavier Johnson matched his contributions with 23 points and nine rebounds as the potential Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year candidates battled.

“Our guys had an incredible spirit about themselves tonight,” Saluki head coach Bryan Mullins said. “What we do works, and works at the highest level, and if we play like that, we can beat anyone.”

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Avila hit eight shots and scored 19 points in the first half as the Sycamores took an early lead; up as much as 11 in the last three minutes of the period, before the Salukis climbed back to cut the halftime lead to 37-31.

Southern would finish its comeback in the second half, as the rest of the game saw both teams battle back-and-forth for the lead.

“Our guys play the right way on both sides of the ball,” Mullins said. “Executed offensively, took care of the ball in the second half, and they were really instinctive and decisive.”

The lead would change 11 times on Saturday, most of which coming in the second half. An AJ Ferguson jumper at the 14:26 mark was the first Saluki lead of what would be several see-saw stretches.

“Out guys attacked pressure with pressure,” Mullins said. “They played off each other, they were confident and a really resilient group.”

The Salukis would put the game away when, with less than 10 seconds left up three, Jarrett Hensley blocked the shot attempt of Indiana State’s Isaiah Swope. Johnson would sink two free throws to solidify a monumental win.

“He’s getting better and better, and you know that block on [Isaiah] Swope that he had when we were up three, that was incredible,” Mullins said. “He’s put a lot of work in this season, not knowing if he’s going to play or not, continuing to put the work in. And work works.”

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The improbability of the Salukis’ win comes not only from its prior 17-game drought against AP Top 25 ranked teams and the Sycamores’ status as the top team in the Valley, but also the 77-48 beatdown the Salukis suffered in Terre Haute the last time the teams met in November.

SIU’s win maintains the team’s top-four placing in the Missouri Valley Conference. Entering Saturday in a four-way tie for the fourth seed in the Valley, Southern will keep that positioning at least for another day as it looks to fend off the likes of Belmont, Murray State and Northern Iowa – all of which are in action on Sunday.

The Salukis will face a pivotal matchup with postseason implications on Wednesday, as they take on the Murray State Racers (11-15, 8-7) at 7 p.m. at the Banterra Center.

To stay up to date on all your southern Illinois news, be sure to follow The Daily Egyptian on Facebook and @dailyegyptian on X [formerly known as Twitter].

Jamilah Lewis can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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    Mike Carter\Feb 20, 2024 at 9:17 pm

    You are the perfect sports writer…. you gave a great overview of the game without giving the @#$%@ SCORE!

    Reply