McGill powers SIU to fourth-straight MVC win

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Eric McGill scored a career-high 27 points to lead the SIU men’s basketball team to a 68-63 win over league-leading Loyola on Wednesday night at Banterra Center. The Salukis earned their fourth-straight Valley win to finish the first half of league play 6-3.

“I’m incredibly proud of our guys,” SIU head coach Bryan Mullins said. “The effort played with has been incredibly consistent since the beginning of the season. They continue to get better every single day. They have embraced that. Tonight, to fight our way through, to not play well in the first half but keep it close, and then to really step up in the second half and find a way to win — and that’s what these last couple games have been about: finding a way to win — I’m proud about our seniors.”

SIU (12-10, 6-3 MVC) won its ninth-straight game at Banterra Center, matching the program’s longest home court winning streak in more than a decade. Like they have all season, SIU’s fans were electric. During SIU’s active four-game winning streak, the Salukis have taken down both of the MVC’s highest-rated teams, Loyola (14-8, 6-3 MVC) and Northern Iowa — both in rowdy Banterra Center atmospheres.

“I want to thank the fans,” Mullins said. “I’m so appreciative for the atmosphere in the Banterra Center. It’s really been that way since the start of the season. Tonight was another special night, another special memory for our guys. That crowd makes such a difference. It’s hard for other teams to come in here and play when we have the arena like that. It was a great night for the community.”

McGill had the night of his life, scoring his career-high 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting. He added six rebounds, three assists and a steal for good measure. The first time SIU and Loyola played this season, McGill had 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, and he blew those numbers away tonight.

“He looked All-League tonight,” Loyola head coach Porter Moser said of McGill. “He looked All-League last time we played him. He looks All-League on film.”

“Eric had a special performance tonight. He really carried us,” Mullins added. “I’m happy for him because of what he’s invested.”

While Loyola seemed to control the first half, shooting 55% from the field and holding SIU to 41%, SIU seniors Eric McGill and Barret Benson kept SIU within striking distance. McGill and Benson combined to go 7-of-10 for 19 points in the first half; the rest of the Salukis went 4-of-17, but SIU trailed just 33-31 at halftime.

After Loyola scored first out of halftime to take a 35-31 lead, SIU went on a 10-0 run to force a Loyola timeout. SIU never trailed again. The Ramblers make a surge and tied the game 56-56 with a little more than four minutes left, but the crowd came to its feet anyway, and Marcus Domask found Benson for a go-ahead layup. Two minutes later, SIU led by just one late in the shot clock, and Benson hit a clutch 3-pointer to make it a two-possession game. From there, SIU’s defense did the work, limiting Loyola to 2-for-7 from the field down the final 120 seconds.

Benson also played outstanding defense against one of the league’s leading Player of the Year candidates, Cameron Krutwig. The Loyola center had a big first half, but Benson and SIU limited him to two points on 1-of-5 shooting in the second half.

SIU has overcome all odds during this four-game winning streak. The Salukis are a team picked last in the preseason MVC poll. They’re playing without leading scorer Aaron Cook Jr., who is out for the season with a broken hand. Only three of the 14 players on the roster had ever played a game for SIU before this year — one of those being Cook. And prior to this winning streak, SIU had only played two games all year decided by five points or fewer, and had lost both of them. And somehow, these underdog, injured, and newcomer group of Salukis have won three-straight games that were decided in the final minutes.

“We’re really a resilient group,” Benson said, who finished a rebound shy of a double-double with 13 points and 9 rebounds. “We’re learning more about one another each game. At Illinois State, we didn’t play well but found a way to win. In this game, we came out and they hit us first. We responded like we’ve been doing. We have to continue to build on that.”

And SIU’s third available senior, Ronnie Suggs Jr., hit two big 3-pointers and finished with 10 points and 4 rebounds. On an SIU team which has gotten 52% of its scoring this season from freshmen and sophomores, tonight, SIU’s three seniors accounted for 50 of the team’s 68 points and 19 of its 30 rebounds to earn the win over the two-time defending MVC champs.

UP NEXT: SIU visits Drake on Saturday for a 5 p.m. game on February 1 in Des Moines.

NOTES: The game was SIU’s annual Black Out Cancer game. SIU wore special black jerseys for the game. Winning bidders were allowed to put the name of their choosing on the backs on the uniforms, with all proceeds going to SIH’s Coach Kill Fund. This year’s jersey’s raised more than $7,000 … SIU won its fourth-straight MVC game and ninth-straight home game … SIU’s ninth-straight home win matched the longest home court winning streak since the 2007-08 season … SIU’s last loss at home was on November 16 vs. San Francisco … SIU improved to 10-1 at Banterra Center this season … SIU’s 6-3 start is its best MVC start through nine games since 2015-16 (7-2) … McGill’s 27 points were a career high and the most points scored by an SIU player this season … SIU’s swimming and diving team attended the game and did its “Saluki Strip.” … Marcus Domask became the sixth player in SIU history to score 300+ points as a freshman (others: Charlie Vaughn, Kent Williams, Darren Brooks, Mike Glenn, and Kevin Dillard).

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