CARBONDALE — Open was never open for SIU's men's basketball team Wednesday night.
Missouri State only blocked five of SIU's 58 shots at the Banterra Center, but altered a lot more in a 68-53 win that wasn't even that close. The Salukis spotted the Bears a two-touchdown lead, and were never able to come back in what turned out to be just the 10th win by MSU in Carbondale since the two programs began squaring off in 1957.
MSU (15-5, 11-5 Missouri Valley Conference) converted their first six shots to take a 14-0 lead less than five minutes in, went into the break up 14, and cruised to their sixth straight victory. Forward Gaige Prim made his first three shots during the run, two jumpers and a thunderous one-handed slam off an Isiaih Mosley feed, and finished the game with a career-high 29 points and career-high 21 rebounds. Demarcus Sharp was the only other Bear in double figures, with 10, but MSU won this one at the other end.
"Give credit to Missouri State," SIU coach Bryan Mullins said. "They played a complete game tonight. I thought our guys were ready to play at the beginning. We didn't get a few shots to drop for us, and they, obviously, were able to make a couple and get in transition a little bit in those first or five minutes, and they got the lead and never gave it up, so, give them a ton of credit."
SIU (10-10, 4-10) trailed 22-5 to start, missing five layups in the opening 10 minutes, and finished the game a season-worst 20 of 58 from the field (34.5%). The Salukis shot 14 free throws, making seven, and avoided their lowest-scoring game of the season after Lance Jones converted a transition layup in the final minute.
The best 3-point shooting team in the league entering this week at 37.6%, SIU made just 6 of 24 behind the arc. Without much from center Kyler Filewich (five points) or forward Anthony D'Avanzo (three points), the Salukis tried to stay up with the Valley's second-highest scoring offense outside the paint.
It didn't work the first time SIU played MSU, when it made 5 of 18 behind the arc, and it failed Wednesday night.
"What helped us was the ball was always going in the basket, so we were really motivated to guard, and when you play Southern, the way they play, you've gotta defend the 3-point line," MSU coach Dana Ford said. "We've done that."
Prim, a shifty 6-foot-8, 235-pound senior who can pass, did the rest. Prim had three of the Bears' five rejections, six of their 19 assists on their 30 buckets, and a few of those, too. He converted 13 of 19 from the field to set a new career-high, sinking 15-foot jumpers, running hook shots, and the tough ones in traffic so many Valley coaches have tried to forget.
On one possession in the second half, he grabbed his own miss on the right side of the block, and after SIU tried to fortify the wall with a third defender, Prim went up anyway. His shot was good.
"They obviously struggled to defend him down low, and he was really locked in, and he's capable," Ford said. "I don't know if he's always capable of 20 and 20, but he's definitely capable of doing it one time. If he would have made another free throw, he would have had 30 and 20, and I don't know how often that happens."
SIU tried Filewich and D'Avanzo on him, and couldn't slow him down. The first three times the Salukis double-teamed him near the elbow, he found a cutter for a layup.
"When Prim's scoring the ball like he is, he demands a double team, and then you're playing 4-on-3 basketball, defensively, at a disadvantage," Mullins said. "So, we've gotta get to that first rotation a little bit better and try to slow up the next rotation."
The loss left SIU with a tall task to stay out of the opening round of the MVC Tournament next month. The Salukis fell into a three-way tie in the loss column with Bradley and Northern Iowa, two teams they split with, with four games to go. SIU will have to go 3-1 against Valparaiso (8-15, 5-9) Sunday and Monday, and No. 22 Loyola (19-4, 14-2) in Chicago, to have a shot at escaping the opening night of Arch Madness.
On Twitter: @THefferman