CARBONDALE, Ill. - The Saluki men's basketball team was in desperate need of a pick-me-up, and the friendly confines of SIU Arena provided one Saturday.
Weary from having played five of its last six games on the road, and losers of two-straight conference games, Southern Illinois recharged its batteries with a dominating home-court win over Missouri State, 76-56.
"We did not deserve to be on the floor with them," said Missouri State head coach Barry Hinson, after his team's most lopsided loss of the season. "We absolutely got our tails whipped today in every aspect."
The Salukis (13-4, 4-2) looked like a completely different team than the passive bunch that surrendered a 10-point lead in a loss at Bradley last Wednesday.
Clearly, the biggest difference was playing at home, where Southern is 46-1 against Missouri Valley Conference teams in the last six years.
"Home games are very, very, very important," deadpanned Saluki head coach Chris Lowery, whose team played 11 of its first 16 games away from home.
Feeding off the energy of the crowd, SIU's players had a bounce in their step and a gleam in their eyes, especially forward Randal Falker and guard Jamaal Tatum.
Falker was a beast in the paint and scored 23 points using an array of moves to attack the rim.
"You can't leave Randal alone down inside," said MSU forward Nathan Bilyeu. "You've got to double on him, then that leaves one of their good shooters open outside."
Tatum, who made all four of his 3-point trys and finished with 19 points, said playing at home helped relax the Salukis. Southern shot 58 percent on the day, including 68 percent in the second half.
"We were obviously in a good mood today, winning by 20 against a great team," Tatum said. "We've been too uptight, but everybody was loose at practice yesterday, and that carried over into today. We came out and played carefree."
Meanwhile, the Bears (13-4, 4-2) looked nothing like the team that beat Evansville at home on Wednesday night by 52 points. A smothering Saluki defense forced 14 turnovers and limited MSU to 40 percent shooting from the field and 23 percent from 3-point range.
"Everything we did today is a reaction to what they did to us," said Hinson. "I don't think you can play like that."
The Bears' eighth-year head coach said he was surprised by the blow-out. Previously, his team's worst loss of the season was by three points in overtime versus Oklahoma State.
"This is the best team that I think I've brought into this building since 2000," said Hinson. "I'm a little shocked right now. I'm in awe. I'm really confused, because I never would have thought that would've happened. I could understand getting beat, but not in the fashion that we did."
Southern led by as many as 11 points in the first half, and unlike Wednesday, wasn't fazed when Missouri State switched from a man-to-man to a zone defense.
"We didn't just stand and walk around like we did in Peoria," Lowery said. "We learn from our mistakes."
According to Lowery, film study made a big difference in SIU's more efficient attack against the zone.
"What we were able to do this time was come back, look, watch, evaluate and understand the spots in the zones where you can throw the ball and the spots in the zone where you can't throw the ball," said Lowery.
One of the key "zone busters" this day was freshman guard Joshua Bone, who hit the first two 3-point shots of his career and finished with eight points. He was playing in just his second-career game.
"It's unfortunate that (Bone) had to wait this late to play, because of a broken foot," Lowery said. "Now, he's ready to play, and hopefully he can continue to get in the rotation. He has a lot of defensive work to do, but he can make plays offensively."
Bone, who hasn't played since the Dec. 20 game against Central Michigan, said he did not know ahead of time that Lowery planned to play him.
"Every game is just waiting for the opportunity to get my chance," he said.
Missouri State made a comeback midway through the second half, closing the deficit to five, 43-38, with 11:44 remaining.
However, the Salukis regrouped and went on a 22-8 run during the next six minutes to blow the game open. During that stretch, Tatum buried two deep 3-pointers, and Bone dropped in a 25-footer with the shot clock winding down to put SIU up, 60-46.
Bone's 3-pointer drew a thunderous response from a season-best crowd of 8,747 and sent the Bears into a tailspin.
"For whatever reason, we were scared," Hinson observed. "I would not have thought that of this basketball team, but it was from the very start of the game you could see that. We were apprehensive and passive. We were not the basketball team that I thought we were."
Often a liability this season, Southern's bench play produced 18 points on the afternoon, compared to a combined total of just 21 points in the last five league games.
"The bench understands that we need them," said Lowery. "When they had opportunities to play, today they stood up and made them."
Forward Jamaal Foster recorded nine solid minutes, blocking a shot in the first half and throwing down a dunk that became a three-point play in the second half.
With the Salukis, comfortably ahead Lowery cleared his bench and played walk-on guards C.J. Smith and Dion Coopwood, along with seldom-used big men Jordan Armstrong and Kobby Acquah.
"It's been a long time since someone's emptied their bench on us," noted Hinson.
Lowery said he hopes the game is a springboard for his team, which played the first of four games during the next eight days.
"It helps to be here in a positive environment in front of that many fans," he said. "It's a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon."
- SIU Media Relations -