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Hot shooting first half leads SIU past NC Central, 64-48

CARBONDALE, Ill. – The SIU men’s basketball team made each of its first seven 3-point field goal attempts en route to a 64-48 rout over NC Central on Tuesday night at Banterra Center. The Salukis shot 10-of-13 from the 3-point line in the first half and held a 42-28 lead at the break. 

"I’m proud of our guys. NC Central is a good program. They’re very well coached. They have been in the NCAA Tournament a bunch," SIU head coach Bryan Mullins said. "They’re an old team, and they have played some teams really close this year already. Our guys came out with the right mindset. I thought we had a great week of practice. We had four or five practices since Murray State, and it was big for us to get better. 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. We have to be playing our best basketball in February and March. Today was a step in the right direction."

NC Central (2-5), which is coming off three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances and is picked to win its league against this season, also started hot, hitting its first three shots to pull to an early 8-8 tie. But the Salukis were on another level offensively. In an eight-minute stretch in the first half (18:30 to 10:30), the Salukis were 8-for-8 from the field, 7-for-7 from the 3-point line, and all eight field goals were assisted. By the time SIU finally missed, the Salukis held a 25-10 lead. A few minutes later, an 8-0 SIU spurt pushed the lead to 20. SIU held a double-digit lead for the final 34 minutes of the game. 

"It was great to see," Mullins said. "Our guys are in the gym all the time. I have complete confidence in them. They were ready to shoot tonight, and they were good passes, shooting passes. The spacing was really good, especially in the first half. They stepped into them, and we talked about playing with confidence tonight."

While SIU’s hot-shooting was the star of the first half, SIU’s defense dominated the second half. The Salukis (3-4) allowed only 20 second-half points; so while Southern’s offense came back to earth, shooting 44% in the second half and 0-of-4 from the 3-point line, the Salukis were still able to extend the lead. The Eagles were 8-of-28 (28.6%) from the field in the second half and 1-of-7 (14.3%) from the 3-point line after halftime.

"We held them to 20 points in the second half; that’s what won us the game," Mullins said. "We have to execute better, but everyone pitched in. Everyone made big plays."

Lance Jones started in place of Aaron Cook, who broke his hand in last Tuesday’s game at Murray State. Cook’s now-snapped streak of 63 consecutive games started was the longest active streak in the MVC — big shoes to fill for a freshman point guard, but Jones played 27 minutes and had two points, two assists, three rebounds and a career-best four steals. 

"To play against that type of team, with them pressuring every single possession, and to be a freshman point guard stepping in — he played really well," Mullins said of Jones. "He took two huge charges and dove on the floor. He’s going to get better and better with experience."

Marcus Domask led three SIU players in double-figures with 18 points, and he added 5 assists and 5 rebounds. Barret Benson tied a career high with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting, and Eric McGill added 10 points and five assists. NCCU’s Jibri Blount scored a game-high 21 points and played all 40 minutes. SIU held the rest of the Eagles to 10-of-34 shooting (29%). 

UP NEXT: SIU travels to Saint Louis for a 3 p.m. game on Sunday, December 1.

NOTES: SIU never trailed, and has not trailed in any of its three wins this season … SIU, which entered the game with the MVC’s top field goal percentage defense, held NC Central to 35.3% shooting, including 28.6% in the second half … SIU won fast break points (10-5), points in the paint (24-18), and points off turnovers (19-15) … SIU has held four of its first seven opponents under 40% shooting.

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