CARBONDALE — Marcus Domask hit two 3-pointers in the opening five minutes Tuesday night, and SIU's men's basketball team was just getting started against North Carolina Central.
The Salukis dropped 10 of their first 12 3-pointers at the Banterra Center, missing their last one, and nearly scored enough points in the first half to take down the Eagles. SIU led 42-28 at the break and went on to win 64-48 to snap a four-game losing streak. Domask scored 18 points and Barret Benson added 17, including 15 in the second half, to help the Salukis (3-4) beat the preseason favorites in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
"Any game you want to start off on a good note and see the ball go in," said Domask, who made 6 of 10 from the field and all three of his free-throw attempts in just under 32 minutes. "It kind of takes away all nerves, and you're just there to play after that."
Eric McGill scored 10 points and had five of SIU's 16 assists on 23 buckets. Domask also had five assists in the Salukis' first game without senior guard Aaron Cook. Freshman Lance Jones got the start in Cook's place, and wasn't able to replicate the 15 points Cook normally delivers but had two assists, three rebounds and all four of the Salukis' steals.
One of them came in a precarious position late in the game. Off a switch, as SIU was switching every screen most of the night, the 6-foot-1 Jones found himself behind 6-7, 230-pound forward Jibri Blount just off the left block. Blount took one or two dribbles baseline, and just before he tried to shoot over Jones, SIU's new starting point guard stripped the ball.
Blount went for a game-high 21 points for North Carolina Central (2-5). He was the only Eagle in double figures. North Carolina Central missed 13 of 20 from behind the arc and finished the game 18 of 51 from the field (35.3%). The Eagles became the fourth team this season to shoot under 40% from the field against SIU's defense, the hardest to shoot against in the Missouri Valley Conference.
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"I thought we executed well in the first half, and, the second half, our defense picked up," SIU coach Bryan Mullins said. "We were able to hold 'em to 20 points, and that's what won us the game in the second half. We gotta execute better in the second half, but, everyone pitched in. Everyone made big plays."
The Salukis hit their first seven behind the arc and scored 17 points off the Eagles' nine turnovers in the first half. McGill's 3-pointer with 13:45 to go in the half put SIU up 17-8. The Salukis forced two straight turnovers, and Harwin Francois extended the lead to 12 off one of his two 3s.
SIU finished 15 of 24 from the field in the first half (62.5%), with 12 assists. The Salukis turned it over five times and only had nine rebounds because the Eagles grabbed five of its 13 misses at the offensive end.
The Eagles made 10 of 23 from the field (43.5%) in the first half and missed 7 of 13 3-pointers. Blount led North Carolina Central with 12 first-half points. Randy Miller Jr., the Eagles' leading scorer entering the game, made 1 of 5 from the field, all behind the arc, in just under 15 minutes. Miller had three points and two turnovers in the first half and finished with seven points.
Jones played just under 27 minutes and made 1 of 8 from the field. Two of his shots were blocked in traffic, but Mullins was pleased with how hard the former Evanston Township High School standout played in the big moments.
"I thought he was great. Obviously, his stats don't tell the whole story. One-for-8, he's going to make some of those shots," he said. "Some turnovers. He played 27 minutes. Last game he played 12 seconds. To play against that type of team, where they're pressuring every possession, and then to be a freshman point guard and step in there, he played really well. He had two huge charges for us, dove on a floor a couple times. He's going to get better and better with experience."