Southern stuns Ramblers behind McGill’s 27-point performance

By Tāmar Mosby, Sports Editor

A crowd of nearly 5,000 gathered for an eventful night at Banterra Center in a Blackout Cancer game that resulted in a Southern Illinois men’s basketball victory.

“I want to thank all the fans,” Saluki head coach Bryan Mullins said. “I’m so appreciative of the atmosphere and the Banterra Center […] tonight was just a special night and it was a special memory for our guys. The crowd makes such a difference and it’s hard for teams to come in here and play when we have the arena like that.” 

After trailing the Loyola University Ramblers for the entire first half, the Salukis turned up the heat in the second period to take the lead and win the game 68-63.

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Much of the Southern momentum was courtesy of senior guard Eric McGill who scored a career-high of 27 points on 9-for-11 shooting. 

“[Eric] really carried us and that had little to do with coaching,” Mullins said. “I’m happy for him because of what he’s invested. It was a great team win and a great win for the program.” 

McGill had such an impact that Mullins left the senior in for the entire 40 minutes of play.

Other than McGill, graduate student center Barret Benson was another top performer for Southern as he scored 13 points and tallied nine rebounds, which was just one shy of a double-double performance. 

For Loyola, freshman guard Marquise Kennedy stepped up. After starting the night on the bench with just four points at halftime, the freshman guard exploded for 14 second half points to end with 18. Following Kennedy in scoring was junior center Cameron Krutwig who totaled 15 points and seven rebounds.

Tonight gave SIU their 10th win at home, only having had one loss in the newly named Banterra Center. 

“I’m proud of the team,” McGill said. “I feel like everyone contributed at some point in time. Each and every one of them work hard and I respect them.”

Entering the matchup, the Ramblers (14-8, 6-3 MVC) held the number two position in the conference standings, while Southern was amidst a three-way tie for third. 

After tonight, Southern (12-10, 6-3 MVC) has moved into a three-way tie for second place in the Missouri Valley Conference. 

“We took our foot off the gas pedal and they capitalized,” said Loyola head coach Porter Moser. “They’re playing very, very hard, they play smart, and they’re confident.”

After a strong start from Loyola with a 6-0 scoring run, Saluki freshman guard Lance Jones scored in the lane on two consecutive possessions to put SIU just a single basket behind.

Southern was able to tie the game 9-9 with a dunk from McGill, but shortly after the tie, the Ramblers regained the lead holding onto it for a majority of the half.

With just under six minutes left to play in the half, a foul committed by SIU freshman guard Marcus Domask would put Loyola in the bonus and at the free throw line to shoot. 

By the end of the first period, the Salukis accumulated nine team fouls to the Ramblers five. At the half, Loyola had gone 5-for-5 from the charity stripe giving them a 100% free throw percentage entering the final period of play.

A Rambler layup on the next possession increased their lead to 10 points over Southern. Loyola would not score for the remainder of the half, while the Salukis were able to tally three baskets before time expired.

The last basket of the half was a Domask 3-pointer that would cut the Loyola lead down to two-points and make the score 33-31 at the end of the first period.

McGill scored nearly half of Southern’s points in the first period with 12 total, while Krutwig was the top performer for the Ramblers at halftime.

“Eric was unbelievable,” Benson said. “That’s the type of player Eric is. When he gets hot, he gets hot. He got to the rim a lot today and was finishing very well. Eric’s a big-time player…” 

Krutwig’s total only increased by two points as he finished with 15 for the night being unable to score against SIU’s defensive efforts in the paint. 

Mullins said that Krutwig’s struggle to score in the second half was attributed to Benson’s improvement in defense. 

“Barret stepped up in the second half,” Mullins said. “He played physical defense, he was disciplined,…and he did a great job of using his chest and not his hands. I thought he really competed tonight.” 

After the scoring drought from Krutwig, Kennedy began to carry Loyola’s scoring weight as he totaled 14 points in the second period alone.

“[Marquise] was aggressive,” Moser said. “He went all the way to the rim really hard today. I thought he competed today….he was really battling in there for a freshman in this environment.”

The Salukis earned their first lead of the night four minutes into the second half as McGill converted a three-point play to push the score to 36-35.

This play, along with three following baskets from the senior guard, put SIU in rhythm for a 6-2 scoring run that expanded their one-point lead to seven.

During this time, Loyola had only made 2-of-12 shots from the field, while Southern had drained 6-of-8 field goal attempts.

At the six-minute mark the Salukis had continued to hold onto their lead, but three consecutive Rambler baskets, with two being from Kennedy, diminished the lead and made it a two-point game at 56-54.

Another Kennedy layup would tie the game at 56-56 with just under five minutes left to play.

SIU converted three more baskets to regain the lead, with help from a basket by McGill and two baskets from Benson.

In the final minute of the game, several fouls from the Ramblers sent Southern into the double-bonus where they went 5-for-6.

Sound offensive strategy and free throws helped the Salukis to stay ahead of Loyola and clench the 68-63 win.

“We’re a really resilient group and we’re learning more about ourselves each game,” Benson said. “In this game, they hit us first and we responded like we’ve been doing and we have to continue to build on that.”

After tonight, Southern will take to the road and travel to Des Moines, Iowa to face off against the Drake University Bulldogs on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 5 P.M.

“I think it’s great to get a home win and like I told the guys, it’s only the first half of The Valley,” Mullins said. “Every game is going to be like this and we have nine more of these games in the regular season. It’s going to be a grind and we just have to keep getting better.” 

Sports editor Tamar Mosby can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @mosbytamar.

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