Moving On Up: Saluki MBB climbs valley standings after defeating ISU and No. 1 UNI

By Brooke Buerck, Sports Reporter

The SIU men’s basketball team revealed that they had what it took to be an MVC contender when they brought the number one team in the conference, the University of Northern Iowa, down and later defeated another Valley opponent during the weekend.

Southern earned the hard-fought 68-66 win over UNI on Jan. 22 at Banterra Center.

“It was a great win for our program,” Saluki head coach Bryan Mullins said. “I’m proud of our guys you know we’ve been getting better every single day and I’m just happy for the guys to be able to get this result. I thought they played extremely hard and really stuck to the game plan.” 

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The Panthers started the game on a 6-1 scoring run within the first minutes of the period one, but from then on the Salukis took charge with a career-best performance from freshman guards Lance Jones and Trent Brown.

“Obviously we got the first free throw to go in,” Brown said. “It just took one to go in to find rhythm and show that we can play with people. Obviously 6-1 jumps out at the beginning of the game, but it is really only a five point deficit so it can kind of be misleading at the beginning but once we kind of get up and down we can go with the best.”

Jones led the Salukis in scoring with 20 points (14 in the first half) and Brown chipped in 11. 

Freshman guard Marcus Domask also contributed 11 points along with six assists, while graduate student Barret Benson tallied 13 points and six rebounds. 

 An 8-0 scoring run for Southern gave them their first lead of the game with Jones leading the run with four points.

Southern would keep on hanging on to its 28-24 lead with 3:35 left to play in the first half with the help of three 3-pointers from Jones.

“I’ve been working on my three point shot,” Jones said. “It may not show in the game, but I’ve been working my threes for the past few weeks in practice so it was all about confidence for me. Coach preached on that in pregame, just playing with confidence and once I see my first one go in it gave me great confidence”.

Southern’s offense dominated in the second half as Jones would make another three extending their lead 55-39 with just over 10 minutes left to play. 

A 16-2 Northern Iowa scoring run over the next six minutes to get within just two points of SIU bringing the lead to its knees. 

The Panthers looked to score in the final seconds of the game, but the Saluki defense proved to be tough as UNI (16-3, 5-2 MVC) was unable to get to the basket.

Brown would defend UNI’s sophomore guard AJ Green on the final shot of the game for the Panthers which helped the Salukis win the game.

“He caught it off the top,” Brown said. “He took a few left hard dribble drives and I just did my best to stay with him. He is a phenomenal player and he shoots the ball almost on top of his head which is really hard to contest, so you just have to do the best you can and luckily for us it rimmed out.”

The game ended with a pair of free throws from Saluki senior guard Eric McGill, who went one-for-two from the line. The free throw from McGill allowed Southern to cinch the 68-66 win.

A 58-55 win over the Illinois State University Redbirds on Saturday allowed the Salukis (11-10, 5-3) to take a third place ranking in the Missouri Valley Conference, tied with Bradley and Drake.

“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,” Mullins said.

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. 

With less than eight minutes to play Southern was able to tie the score 40-all, and a 15-point performance in the half from senior guard Eric McGill gave SIU the surge they needed to push 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 [freshman guard Marcus Domask] made some big shots to bring us home,” Mullins said. 

Domask led Southern Illinois with 19 points, 16 of which fell in the second half.

“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. 

After shooting 5-for-26 from the 3-point line against Loyola on Jan. 16, SIU saw an improved performance by finishing 9-for-23 at the 3-point range against Illinois State.

A Domask 3-point basket gave SIU a slight advantage with minutes remaining, and the Salukis were able to hold out until the end after a strong defensive performance.

“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.

After this weekend’s win and defeating the Missouri Valley Conference’s current number one team earlier in the week, SIU has climbed the Valley standings and proved they are a force to be reckoned with.

The Salukis will take on the MVC’s current number two seed, Loyola University Chicago, on Wednesday Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. at Banterra Center for the Blackout Cancer Game.

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

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