SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. — Lance Jones looked at his teammate, Marcus Domask, slumped over a chair after he tried to carry SIU’s increasingly troubling offense across the finish line early Tuesday morning.
“We can’t just leave him stranded when he’s out there in the post,” Jones said. “We’ve got to make cuts to get freed up off him.”
Domask finished with 21 points, six rebounds and four assists while playing six seconds shy of a full 40 minutes. But it wasn’t enough to prevent another long second half drought from costing the Salukis in a 56-49 loss to unbeaten UNLV at the SoCal Challenge.
SIU (3-2) led by as many as 11 points in the first half and played just over 60% of the game in the lead. Domask’s layup with 10:03 left in the game gave the Salukis a 45-41 edge, matching the four-point advantage they took to the half.
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Domask scored their next bucket, too. At the 2:23 mark, nearly eight minutes after the last one.
By then, the Rebels (5-0) had the lead for good.
“I was disappointed we couldn’t take care of the ball any better,” said SIU coach Bryan Mullins. “I’ve got to do a better job of helping our guys make better decisions and get cleaner looks.”
The Salukis failed to score on nine consecutive possessions during the game-changing skid, committing four turnovers in that span. They finished the game with 21, giving them 53 in their last three games.
It’s the continuation of a trend that’s looking a lot like last year, when SIU often dealt with long stretches where it couldn’t score. In its last four games, it has averaged just 55 ppg, with 49 establishing a new season low.
While UNLV forces nearly 24 turnovers per game, the Salukis have run into turnover problems against everyone but Oklahoma State, which was probably the longest, most athletic opponent of the first five they’ve faced.
“We’ve had too many turnovers the last three games,” Mullins said. “As a staff, we have to figure out ways to put the guys in positions where they’re not turning the ball over. I think as our guys continue to play with each other, we’ll be better taking care of the ball.”
SIU’s other issue after halftime was first-shot defense. UNLV was able to hurt it with straight-line drives, canning 13 of 22 field goals in the second half. That was a marked departure from a first half where the Salukis cut off driving lanes and hassled the Rebels into 10 of 29 shooting, including 3 of 10 from 3-point land.
Jones said that SIU might have been guilty of not sticking with the game plan.
“We didn’t get the necessary stops that we needed,” he said. “They were being aggressive and getting into the paint in the second half. We could have stayed in our gaps and helped a little bit more, but they came out with more aggression the second half.”
EJ Harkless’ lane jumper with 7:05 left gave UNLV the lead for good at 46-45. Harkless sealed the outcome with a pullup jumper that made it 54-49 with 38.6 seconds left.
Keshon Gilbert scored 18 to pace the Rebels, which play Minnesota for the tournament title Wednesday night at 9:30. Harkless added 16 and Luis Rodriguez chipped in 14 points.
This might have been the latest-starting game in recent SIU history. Because Minnesota and Cal Baptist went overtime in the tournament opener, tip time was moved back to 10:19 p.m. Pacific Time. … The Salukis shortened their bench to just Dalton Banks, Clarence Rupert and Jawaun Newton. Foster Wonders went DNP-CD for the second straight game, while AJ Ferguson and Cade Hornecker rode the bench for 40 minutes as well. SIU used more smallball lineups because UNLV used a four-guard alignment most of the night. … The result drops the Salukis into another midnight (or so) start late Wednesday night against Cal Baptist in the third place game.