SIU earns second home win in a row over Valparaiso

By Brooke Buerck, Sports Reporter

The Southern Illinois men’s basketball team sealed their second consecutive Missouri Valley Conference and home game victory in a row, 63-50 over the Valparaiso University Crusaders on Tuesday.

The Salukis (8-8, 2-1 MVC) improve their home record to 7-2 following Saturday’s 67-55 win over Illinois State. 

“It was a grinded-out game, and we knew that coming into it,” head coach Bryan Mullins said. “We talked a lot about toughness the last couple of days, and when you play a team that plays a motion [offense]… you just can’t break. And I thought our second half defense […was] really good tonight.”

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So far in MVC play, Valparaiso (8-8, 1-2 MVC) has lost a 66-63 matchup against Loyola University Chicago and defeated University of Evansville 81-79 in overtime. 

Freshman guard Marcus Domask led Southern on offense with 23 total points, including five three-pointers. 

Senior guard Eric McGill was the only other Saluki in double-digit points, adding 14 as well as four rebounds and two steals.

On the defensive end, graduate student Ronnie Suggs Jr. led the team with nine rebounds, all defensive, and tallied five assists.

“I thought he competed extremely hard,” Mullins said. “He was on [sophomore guard Javon Freeman-Liberty] a lot, the rebounds, the assists, his energy… he’s had two really good games here these past two games.”

Suggs Jr.’s five assists made up a third of Southern’s 15 total.

“When we move the ball, and the guys are driving close-outs, playing downhill, sharing the ball, not hesitating, we’re pretty good offensively. It’s just, when the ball sticks a little bit and we hesitate and we stand still and there’s no movement, that’s when we have some turnovers,” Mullins said.

For the Crusaders, Freeman-Liberty led with 16 points, while senior guard John Kiser and freshman forward Donovan Clay had nine rebounds apiece.

Southern’s defense held Valpo to a score lower than their average, and Domask said defense has been a focus for the team.

“I think that we’re scouting a lot more now that it’s conference play, we know all of the sets are coming and we’re just more locked in. We know that defense is going to be what wins us [games],” Domask said.

With the help of Domask’s 21-point first half performance, Southern headed into the half with a 32-28 lead. 

The Crusaders held the early 11-7 lead over SIU, but Southern gained their momentum midway through the first half off of two Domask three-pointers in a row and a layup from freshman forward Karrington Davis. 

“I came out a little slow, I don’t think I was very aggressive… I got back in and got a couple of good looks that fell and then I just got comfortable and it went from there,” Domask said.

After a four minute scoring drought, Valpo found a six-point scoring run of their own, including a Kiser three-point basket, to tie the game 19-all with less than six minutes in the half remaining.

Domask helped the Salukis make their final push of the half with a 13-point run individually, including three three-point baskets and two jumpers, to keep the lead at the end of the half.

SIU was 6-12 from three-point range during the half, with Domask finishing 5-5 from the line. 

The Crusaders were 5-13, including two from junior forward Mileek McMilan.

Southern continued where they left off in the second half, extending their lead by eight points before Valpo got back on the board.

With 10 minutes left to play the Crusaders looked to get back in the game striking a 10-point scoring run with the help of a three-point conversion play by Freeman-Liberty. 

Both teams entered a bonus on free-throws, but Southern remained in control of the game despite Valpo’s efforts to find a win.

Southern’s next Valley competition will be against the Bradley University Braves on Jan. 11. Tip-off in Peoria, Ill., is set for 7:00 P.M. 

“I told the guys we can’t let up right now,” Mullins said. “We can’t be satisfied, we can’t be complacent. We’ve got to play with this type of energy on the road. It doesn’t matter where we play; defense travels.”

Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25.

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