ST. LOUIS -- The SIU men's basketball team battled a big, physical Saint Louis squad hard for 30 minutes, but the Billikens pulled away in the game's final 10 minutes for a 69-60 win over the Salukis on Sunday afternoon at Chaifetz Arena.
"For 30 minutes, our guys played extremely tough and with a lot of discipline," SIU head coach Bryan Mullins said. "Saint Louis is a really well coached team. Obviously, they're doing well this year and this is a tough place to play. I thought Marcus (Domask) and Barret (Benson) gave us a great lift, and Lance (Jones) really stepped up as a freshman point guard. In the last 10 minutes of the game, Barret got in foul trouble, and I thought that hurt us a little bit. They started to beat us up inside. We have to be tougher and continue to learn how to close out games and compete for 40 minutes. As the younger guys grow up, we're going to get better and better."
SIU's freshmen shined in the loss. Marcus Domask scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting and added five rebounds, five assists and a steal. Lance Jones, in his second game taking over for injured star guard Aaron Cook, scored a career-high 14 points and added five assists and four rebounds.
"He knows how to play basketball -- he can pass, shoot and dribble; he can post up; and he has a great feel," Mullins said of Domask. "He takes what he gets. He doesn't two-handed dunk on people or cross people over, but he's very efficient."
"I'm proud of Lance. I don't think he backed down," Mullins added about Jones. "Yuri (Collins) is a great point guard. I think he took that challenge. He played downhill most of the night and played good defense. He had a couple turnovers in the second half, but this is really his second game playing this many minutes. He's going to get better and better with experience."
SLU (7-1) was coming off a win over Boston College and also has a good win over Belmont this year. SIU (3-5) was unfazed, starting the game on a 10-0 run and holding SLU to 31% shooting in the first half. The Salukis held a 29-26 lead at the break.
But SLU's frontcourt duo of Hasahn French and Jordan Goodwin was the difference in the game. The pair combined for 29 points and 28 rebounds. While SIU's trio of Domask, Jones and senior center Barret Benson controlled the first half, combining for 27 of the team's 29 points, French and Goodwin owned the second half, combining for 25 points and 18 rebounds after the break.
"He got some deep positioning that he wasn't able to get in the first half," Mullins said of French. "When he's that deep, there's really no defense you can stop him with. He plays hard every possession, and it can wear on people. He's relentless."
Benson held his own with the powerful SLU frontcourt for most of the night. At halftime, SIU held a 24-to-12 advantage in points in the paint. But foul trouble hurt Benson in the second half. Benson made a layup to give SIU a lead with 13:06 to play, but he picked up his third foul a minute later, and SLU started a 10-2 run and never looked back. Benson finished the game with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
"He has been great. He has been one of our hardest workers since June," Mullins said of Benson. "He has really dedicated himself to the season. He has been a great leader for us. We need him to score, and he has been able to score for us and shoot a good percentage."
Coming into the game, SIU's apparent disadvantage in the matchup was rebounding -- SLU was a top-15 offensive rebounding team in the nation with Goodwin and French leading the way. But SIU stayed in the boards battle, down only 16-15 on the glass in the first half. But SLU won the glass 23-to-12 in the second half.
"That was my challenge to the team after the game: Can we do it for 40 minutes against a really good team like Saint Louis?" Mullins said of his team's competitive energy. "We have a lot of tough games left; and when Valley play starts, it doesn't get any easier. We're capable of competing and beating teams like Saint Louis, we just have to be able to put 40 minutes together."
The Salukis return to Banterra Center Wednesday for a 7 p.m. game against Norfolk State.
"It's about every day with us. We have to be better come February," Mullins said. "Our practices have been great. I think they're embracing getting better every single day. When you have 10-11 new guys, it will take some time. But I don't think our guys have come out and not played hard. Now, we have to learn how to win these games."