KALAMAZOO, Mich. - Southern Illinois slipped even deeper into the scoring funk that has strangled the team's offense and led to five losses in the past six games. Western Michigan was the benefactor of SIU's offensive misery this time, winning, 57-41, Tuesday night and holding the Salukis to their lowest point total in 21 years.
The Salukis (4-5) got off to a nice start when Joshua Bone hit a 3-pointer just 11 seconds into the game. It was not a harbinger of things to come, as the Broncos (5-6) scored the next 15 points, while Southern did not score again until Bryan Mullins hit a lay up with 11:28 remaining in the half.
During that eight-minute span of futility, the Salukis missed five shots and committed six turnovers. Even worse, Mullins, the team's point guard and floor general, was saddled with two fouls.
"We need (Mullins) on the floor the whole game," Lowery said. "Our guards haven't developed enough where we feel comfortable with anybody else bringing it up the floor, except for him."
Indeed, Mullins sat for only two minutes before Lowery put him back in the lineup. The junior point guard was the lone bright spot for the Salukis, leading the team with nine points, five assists and five steals.
Mullins had little help from his teammates. SIU made just six shots in the first half and trailed, 27-16, at halftime.
Randal Falker, the Missouri Valley Conference preseason player of the year, had one point in the first half and missed all four shots from the field. In his defense, Falker was hampered by foul trouble himself, getting whistled twice for charging, which clearly impacted his aggressiveness on offense.
"We have to get the ball inside to Randal, and he has to score," Lowery said. "He knows he's our best player, and we expect him to get better and fight through adversity."
With Falker in foul trouble, Broncos' forward Joe Reitz dominated the Salukis in the paint. Rarely double-teamed, he finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds and made all eight of his free throw attempts.
"We did not take him seriously enough, and then we he started getting going, it was too late," Lowery said.
The second half saw modest improvement on offense for the Salukis, as Southern put 25 points on the board, but the sloppiness of the attack frustrated Lowery.
"We're throwing up shots on the block looking for fouls, instead of being tough in the trenches," he lamented.
No player shot the ball well. For example, SIU's best 3-pointer shooter, Matt Shaw, was 0-for-5 from behind the arc, and all five were clean looks.
"We need makers," Lowery said wryly. "It's not about shooters, we need guys to make shots."
Just as discouraging was the lack of what Lowery calls the "program things" that have come to characterize Saluki teams of the past -- diving for loose balls, coming up with key rebounds, making clutch shots. The Broncos seamed to be in the right place at the right time all night, as evidenced by their 17 offensive rebounds.
"We didn't block out and do the little things," Lowrey. "Everything that makes us successful, we struggled to do. Everybody knows what we've done in the past, but the past is behind us. Our kids don't dwell on what we've done in the past -- it's about right now."
Lowery used the word adversity over and over again both when talking to his team after the game and the media.
"Right now, adversity hurts this team, and our confidence goes south any time there's adversity," he said. "We have to fight through it and learn how to win through adversity."
By Tom Weber