CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP)—Saint Mary’s first game as a ranked team in 18 years turned into a disappointment.
Bryan Mullins scored 24 points and Southern Illinois held the 24th-ranked Gaels to a season-low point total in a 71-56 victory Tuesday night.
Southern Illinois (4-3) outrebounded Saint Mary’s 39-24, including 20-7 on the offensive end.
Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said he knew Southern Illinois would be tough but was startled by his team’s inability to stay close on the boards in its first game as a ranked team since March 1989.
“We did some right things offensively and gave ourselves a chance to get back in the game,” said Bennett, whose team got within six with four minutes left. “We didn’t defend well enough or rebound well enough.”
But Bennett said he wasn’t criticizing his team.
“I just wished we would have played better,” he said.
Southern Illinois ended a three-game losing streak that had knocked the Salukis from the Top 25.
Mullins scored 17 points in the second half, nine in the final five minutes.
Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery said he has tried to encourage Mullins to take a more active role in the Salukis’ offense all season.
“I’ve been telling him this is his team and tonight he took over,” Lowery said.
Mullins said he and his teammates had a better approach than in their recent losses.
“I think we came out with some energy that we’ve missed the last few weeks,” he said. “For the first time in a couple weeks, we had a lot of fun playing the game again.”
Freshman guard Patrick Mills, Saint Mary’s leading scorer with a 16.1 average, was held to 11 points.
Mills pointed to the Salukis’ defensive pressure.
“Coming into the game, I knew it was going to be tough,” Mills said. “We knew that they were going to put pressure on me the full length of the court and it’s something that I’ll learn from. To be a good player you need to adjust to those things throughout the game and that’s what I didn’t do and I’ll learn from it.”
Freshman Brandon Wood was 3-for-4 from 3-point range to lead the Salukis’ 6-for-13 effort from behind the arc.
Josh Bone and Matt Shaw both had 10 points for Southern Illinois.
SIU forced 19 turnovers against the Gaels, who were ranked 13th nationally averaging 83.6 points per game and had consistently approached 100 points all season.
Randal Falker, Southern Illinois’ leading scorer who was held scoreless in the Salukis’ loss at Charlotte on Saturday, scored all eight of his points in the first half Tuesday night and had 12 rebounds.
The Gaels’ big win this season was a 99-87 victory over No. 16 Oregon on Nov. 20. They also defeated Seton Hall 85-70 in a matchup of unbeaten teams on Dec. 1.
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