CARBONDALE — The options were limited because most teams were competing in their own multi-team events the week of Thanksgiving, but SIU men's basketball coach Bryan Mullins found a winner to come to the Banterra Center.
North Carolina Central, an 18-16 squad that reached the NCAA tournament for the third straight year in March, will play the Salukis for the first time two days before Thanksgiving on Nov. 26.
"Most of those MTE tournaments are during that week, so there wasn't a lot of flexibility with teams that had games available that week, which made us have to search and have to find an opponent," Mullins said. "We really wanted a home game, too, because before that we play at Murray State and after that we play at Saint Louis, so I thought it was important for us to get a home game that week."
The Eagles return two starters off a team that won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament title for the third straight year. Senior guard Randy Miller Jr. was NCC's second-leading scorer (13.3 points per game) and shot 41.9% from the field in 34 games. Junior point guard Jordan Perkins started 20 of 29 games last season and had 125 assists and 64 turnovers.
"LeVelle Moton is one of the best coaches in the country," Mullins said. "They won 26 games a couple of years ago, and they made the NCAA tournament the last three years."
Norfolk State, which won the regular season title in the MEAC but lost in the tournament finals to NCC, comes to Carbondale on Dec. 4. Norfolk State went 22-14 last season and played in the NIT. The Spartans are one of five teams on SIU's schedule that played in the postseason last season.
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Murray State, which hosts SIU on Nov. 19, won its first game in the NCAA tournament and is expected to compete for another Ohio Valley Conference title even without Ja Morant. Saint Louis went 23-13 last season and returns several starters. Southern Mississippi, under new coach Jay Ladner, won 20 games and played in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI). The Golden Eagles host SIU on Dec. 7.
The Salukis will also play a buy game worth $90,000 at Missouri on Dec. 15. SIU hasn't played the Tigers since 2013.
The Salukis will have a formidable home schedule next season, with Murray State, Saint Louis and Southern Mississippi all set to return games at the Banterra Center. SIU will play San Francisco on the road in 2020-21.
The Salukis officially open the season Nov. 5 against Division III Illinois Wesleyan, a game they got because of their participation in the first Sunshine Slam. SIU will play UTSA, Delaware and Oakland on successive days between Nov. 8-10 in Kissimmee, Florida, as part of the first tournament to be held on the opening weekend of the season. Mullins wished he had more time to develop his team, which has, essentially, 11 new players. Eastern Illinois transfer Ben Harvey has to sit out the upcoming season, and Mullins signed nine guys to go with returning starters Aaron Cook and Eric McGill, redshirt freshman forward Sekou Dembele and junior forward Brendon Gooch.
"We'll find out pretty early a lot about ourselves, which is good, though, because at the same time we have a lot of new faces, obviously," Mullins said. "After that MTE tournament we'll get about six days, five days, to practice for San Francisco and we'll be able to review some things, and, hopefully grow as a team."