Following last week’s loss to the Murray State Racers, it was a strong week of practice that made the difference for Saluki men’s basketball tonight.
SIU used a strong first half performance to earn the 64-48 win over the North Carolina Central Eagles at Banterra Center.
“Our guys came out with the right mindset,” head coach Brian Mullins said. “We had a great week of practice. The whole thing with this team is getting better every single day. That’s what we talk about at practice, in the locker room [and] in film sessions.”
This was the first time SIU (3-4) has ever faced NC Central (2-5), and the win ended a four-game losing streak for SIU.
“North Carolina Central is a very well-coached program, and it’s not a very easy game to play,” Mullins said. “I think for our guys, just to see the ball go in the first half, that was great for them.”
Senior guard Aaron Cook was missing from the game tonight due to a wrist injury, but the Salukis found a way to make up for what Cook contributes.
“We had a thought of the day, and it was […] that no one is bigger than the team. With one man down, it’s a group effort to replace him,” freshman guard Marcus Domask said.
Domask would finish with 18 points to lead Southern on offense, while graduate student center Barret Benson added 17 to go with six rebounds.
Senior guard Eric McGill also put up 10 points.
It was freshman guard Lance Jones that stepped up for the Salukis on defense, grabbing all four of the Salukis’ steals.
“[Getting the steal is] something that Aaron Cook does well,” Jones said. “He plays defense really well, so I wanted to pick up from that standpoint.”
Mullins said Jones’ stats, including finishing 1-8 on shooting, doesn’t reflect the impact his performance had for the team.
“He had two huge charges for, dove on the floor a couple of times [and] he’s going to get better and better with experience,” Mullins said.
The Eagles went basket-for-basket with the Salukis to open up the game, keeping the score tied before SIU broke away with the lead.
Southern led NC Central 42-28 at the end of the first half after a strong campaign from the three-point line.
SIU went 10 for 13 from the range, with Domask leading with three three-point baskets while sophomore guard Harwin Francois, senior guard Eric McGill and graduate student Ronnie Suggs Jr. each had two apiece.
“They were ready to shoot tonight, and they [had] good passes,” Mullins said. “We talked about playing with confidence tonight.”
Domask led the Salukis with 13 points headed into the second half, while for the Eagles, senior forward Jibri Blount had 12 to lead his team.
“I thought we executed well in the first half, and in the second half our defense picked up,” Mullins said.
The Salukis held the Eagles to 20 points in the second half, holding them shooting 29% on 28 total shots.
Southern went 8-18 from the field in the frame, grabbing a total of 22 points for the half.
For the night, SIU had a total of 16 assists, including five from Domask and five from McGill.
“We’re continuing to gel more and more as we continue playing with each other,” Domask said.
Mullins said tonight’s win will help prepare Southern for their next matchup against St. Louis University.
“It gives us some confidence and momentum going into the game Sunday,” Mullins said. “We’ve got to have some good practices again leading up to the game, though.”
SIU will travel to St. Louis to face the Billikens at Chaifetz Arena on Dec. 1. Tipoff is set for 3 p.m.
Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25.
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