SIU defeats Illinois State for third conference win in a row

By Brooke Buerck, Sports Reporter

Southern Illinois men’s basketball found their first true road win of the season after using a big second half against Illinois State.

SIU outscored the Redbirds (6-14, 1-7 MVC) 41-29 in the second half to lead them to a 58-55 victory at Normal. 

With the Salukis now 5-3 in Missouri Valley Conference play (11-10 overall), the record ties them for third in the conference with Bradley. 

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“We knew Illinois State was going to be ready to go today. They’re a great team, they’re well-coached,” Saluki head coach Bryan Mullins said. “I just thought we got off to a slow start in that first half and then we just kept finding some ways to make some plays in the second half to stay in it, to stay close.”

Illinois State held the lead at the half 23-17, with the Redbirds shooting 11-for-29 from the field while the Salukis went 6-for-25. 

Coming out of the locker room after halftime, Illinois State’s freshman guard DJ Horne and senior guard Zach Copeland hit two 3-pointers to extend their lead to double-digits at 10. 

A freshman guard Lance Jones layup off the fastbreak would allow Southern to tie the game 40-40 with less than eight minutes to play. 

Senior guard Eric McGill contributed a total of 15 points in the half to help surge Southern ahead.

“Eric was big the second half. He was struggling in the first half – he wasn’t being as aggressive as he normally is, and he really just put his head down and he kind of willed us in the second half and then Marcus made some big shots to bring us home,” Mullins said. 

McGill’s points came from a 4-for-12 finish shooting-wise and landing 5-of-6 free throws. 

“He went on a big run. We were kind of down at the time and he started hitting shots, he got to the free throw line, made them all […] and I think he just changed the game for us,” freshman guard Marcus Domask said. 

After making one basket in the first half, Domask hit a 3-point basket with three minutes left that gave Southern their final lead of the game. 

“I got a couple of good looks, and even when I hadn’t been hitting coach was still trusting me. He ran a play for me that saw the ball go in and once I saw it go in it just kind of builds that confidence,” Domask said. 

Domask would go on to finish the game with a team-high 19 points to go along with six rebounds.

With the made basket, Southern retained a less-than-five-points lead for the remainder of the game.

“I thought we did a really good job at executing in the last three to four minutes of the game, and that obviously proved to be the difference,” Mullins said.

Down by just three, Illinois State had possession of the ball in the final seconds of the game, but a strong Saluki defense was able to prevent a 3-point shot by Copeland from making it in. 

“He got switched onto a ball screen, and made Copeland go all the way to the opposite corner and did a really good job showing his hands, not hitting him, not fouling him when he went up for the three,” Mullins said.

Copeland led the Redbirds with 24 points, six rebounds and a steal, and senior guard Jaycee Hillsman followed with 11 points. 

Aside from Domask and McGill, Jones was Southern’s other scorer in double-digit points with 12. 

SIU takes the court again at home on Jan. 29 against Loyola Chicago. 

Tipoff at Banterra Center is set for 7 p.m.

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

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