Salukis blow opportunity to earn 1st Round bye in 2024 MVC Tournament

Dawgs fall to Northern Iowa, 82-70, on Senior Day; end up in 6th Place in MVC


By Jim Beers

CARBONDALE – The SIU Salukis hosted the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) Sunday March 3rd in a show down to see who would earn the final bye in the 2024 MVC Tournament. The Top-4 finishers in the league earned a 1st Round bye. Indiana State had sealed the deal for 1st Place, Drake had the 2nd Place bye and Bradley was the 3rd Place finisher.



Saluki Nation said goodbye to four players Sunday afternoon March 3 on “Senior Day 2024”. Pictured are (left to right) RJ McGee (23), Chris Cross (12), Xavier Johnson (10), and Trent Brown (24). Jim Beers Photo


SIU and UNI were tied, 11-8, in the league and the winner was to secure the 4th Place finish along with the only bye left to fill in the tournament. All other eight teams were to face the “dreaded” Thursday 1st Round games.


It was “Senior Day” at SIU and in a pre-game ceremony, Saluki Nation said good-bye to four (4) players, R.J. McGee (23), Chris Cross (12), Xavier Johnson (10), and Trent Brown (24). Musicians/vocalists from the First Baptist Church in Chester, Illinois performed the National Anthem with perfection.


UNI won the tip-off and scored the first basket of the game on a jumper by Bowen Born at the 19:47 mark (12-seconds into the game). UNI led, 2-0. Just 31-seconds later, SIU’s Troy D’Amico hit a 3-pointer to take a very brief lead, 3-2, at the 19:16 mark.


The rest of the first half, the lead changed six times and was tied twice. UNI went on a 6-0 run to lead, 9-3 with 17:36 to play in the half. Neither team scored in the next minute and a half until the Salukis scored at the 16:00 mark on an AJ Ferguson 3-pointer. SIU trailed by three points, 9-6.


UNI tied the game, 10-10, with 13:51 remaining in the first half, on a Michael Duax free throw. The remainder of the first half the lead would change three more times and the score was tied once again, 1   2-12 at 13:11. The Panthers led by as many as six points in the first half. SIU’s biggest lead two points, 12-10, at the 13:27 mark. The game was tied, 34-34 at halftime.


The Salukis scored first to open the second half and led, 36-34 at the 19:43 mark. UNI re-took the lead, 37-36, just 28-seconds later on a Bowen Born 3-pointer. The Salukis never regained the lead or even tied the game the rest of the contest.


The closest that the Dawgs got was five points, 62-57, with 8:29 to play in the game. The Panthers, on the other hand led by as many as 13 points, 79-66, with a minute to play. UNI used a 12-2 run to get into a double-digit lead.


The final score was UNI 82 and SIU 70. The Panthers outscored the Salukis, 48-36, in the second half to secure both the win and the 4th Place finish and 1st Round bye in the MVC Tournament.


In the loss, SIU’s Xavier Johnson led the Dawgs with 24 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and 1 steal.  Troy D’Amico also had double-digit scoring with 17 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1 steal. Jarrett Hensley was SIU’s third player who scored in double-digits with 10 points. He added 2 rebounds, 3 blocks and 1 steal.


Other contributors included Scottie Ebube (9 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 block); AJ Ferguson (8 points, 9 rebounds); Kennard Davis, Jr. (2 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists).


SIU shot 30% (23-of-59) from the field; 29.2% (7-of-24) from 3-point range; and 85% (17-of-20) from the free throw line. They had 14 second chance points, 21 bench points, 28 points in the paint, 9 fast break points, and 4 points off of turnovers. The game was tied 4 times and there were 10 lead changes. SIU committed 9 turnovers.


UNI had four players score in double figures including Bowen Born (19), Jacob Hutson (15), Tytan Anderson (15), and Trey Campbell (11). Other contributors included Nate Heise (7), Michael Duax (5), Landon Wolf (4), RJ Taylor (4), and Cole Henry (2).


UNI had 2 second chance points, 17 points from turnovers, 26 points in the paint, 18 fast break points, and 15 bench points. The Panthers had just 6 turnovers.


UNI shot 40% from the field (25-of-51); 43.8 % from 3-point range (25-of-33), and 75.9% (25-of-33) from the free throw line.


SIU Head Coach, Bryan Mullins said, “I think we got pretty good looks offensively consistently throughout the night, but we didn’t convert a couple of threes that we normally make. Defensively in the second half we just weren’t able to get as many stops that we needed to be able to get on a run offensively, and I think that was the deciding factor.”


“The turnovers that we had hurt us! I thought we had some live ball turnovers that they converted into layups.”


With the loss, the Salukis ended the regular season with an MVC record of 11-9 and an overall record of 19-12. SIU finished 6th in the conference and will play the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) in Round 1 of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. That game will be played Thursday March 7 at 8:30 p.m. at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri.  The game will be aired on ESPN Plus.