CARBONDALE, Ill. - Southern Illinois made some amazing discoveries in its 71-56 win over #24-ranked Saint Mary's Tuesday night.
First, it re-discovered its offense, which had gone AWOL during a three-game losing streak. Second, it found a player who could deliver buckets during crunch time of a close game -- junior point guard Bryan Mullins.
Mullins had never scored more than 16 points in a game, yet he delivered 24 on the night, including 11 points in the decisive final four minutes.
In the process of building a 19-point second half lead, the Salukis (4-3) looked nothing like the team that had made just 20 percent of its 3-point shots in the previous three games. Joshua Bone, Matt Shaw and Mullins all made 3-point shots during a scoring flurry that gave SIU its biggest lead of the night, 53-34, with 13:17 remaining.
Then the Gaels (7-1) got hot, using a 17-2 run to cut the lead to 55-52 with 5:51 to go.
Someone needed to step up on offense -- the way Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young used to do for last year's Sweet 16 team.
Mullins was the man.
He hit an off-balance, driving layup to give the Salukis a six-point lead, and then came back on the next possession and buried a 3-pointer to put Southern up, 63-54, with 3:18 left in the game. The crowd of 5,498 rose to its feet, and Mullins pumped his fist in the air several times in a rare display of emotion.
"My role this year is obviously different than it has been in the past, and I'm still adjusting to it," Mullins said. "We had great play-makers the last two years with Tony Young and Jamaal Tatum. I was able to give them the ball at the end of the shot clock, and they would make plays for us. Now, I have to start making more plays for my teammates."
Mullins made 3-of-4 shots from outside the arc and was 7-for-7 from the free throw line.
"He was special," Lowery said. "He looked like he wanted to win."
Perhaps too much was made of SIU's losses to USC, Indiana and Charlotte -- three teams that look like NCAA Tournament contenders at this juncture of the season.
"Those three games, any team could have lost," said Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett.
Lowery said he doesn't regret the team's tough schedule -- Saint Mary's RPI was #1 in the nation entering tonight's game.
"I think who we played is really going to pay off for us," he said. "The different types of players we've seen, the special athletes and special talents, I think it's going to be a credit to us down the road."
The Salukis started a new lineup tonight -- with guard Joshua Bone making his first-career start. The sophomore was aggressive on the offensive end, scoring 10 points and grabbing four offensive rebounds.
With Bone and Matt Shaw, who added 13 points, in the lineup as perimeter shooters, teams have a tougher time double-teaming post player Randal Falker, according to Lowery.
"I think the three losses really allowed us to put all our short-comings in a box and evaluate each one, and then as a staff, we had to figure out how to overcome those things," he said.
After being shut-out on Saturday at Charlotte, Falker scored eight points against Saint Mary's but he was a beast on the backboards, grabbing 12 rebounds to help SIU win the rebounding battle, 39-24.
"They blasted us on the boards," lamented Bennett.
The victory over Saint Mary's was SIU's first over a ranked team since beating #17 Creighton on March 1, 2003.
- SIU Media Relations -