(courtesy SIU Media Relations) -- CARBONDALE, Ill. - With its top two scorers struggling in the second half, the Salukis needed someone else to step up Sunday against Missouri State. Fortunately for Southern Illinois, three players -- Bryan Mullins, Tony Boyle and Joshua Bone -- all rose to the occasion. The trio accounted for 29 of SIU's 42 second-half points and helped hold off the Bears in a 79-71 victory.
The Salukis (6-6, 1-0) won their Missouri Valley Conference home opener for the eighth-straight year and improved to 54-1 at home against league teams in the last six-plus seasons. The Bears (7-6, 0-1) lost for the eighth-straight time at SIU Arena.
The senior duo of MVC preseason player-of-the-year Randal Falker and Matt Shaw did little to help Southern Illinois build upon it 37-29 halftime lead. After scoring 12 points in the first half on 4-of-5 shooting, Falker did not even attempt a field goal until 2:57 left in the game and finished with 13 points. Shaw scored six points in the second half, but four of them came on free throws in the final minute.
Mullins, who finished with 19 points, played all 20 minutes of the second half and was the engine that drove the Saluki offense. When he wasn't scoring, Mullins was finding open teammates, dishing out seven assists on the afternoon. The game provided some redemption for Mullins, who missed the front end of a one-and-one two days ago, allowing Butler to make a winning shot at the buzzer. Against the Bears, he made 9-of-11 free throws, including eight in a row in the last 1:14 of the contest.
Boyle scored nine of his 11 points in the second half and was an intimidating force in the paint. With 6:55 to go in the game, he hit a short jumper and was fouled by Deven Mitchell, converting the free throw to give Southern its biggest lead, 63-49. For the game Mitchell had 23 points, 9 rebounds, three assists, two steals, was 6-of-9 from floor, and 11-of-11 from line.
Bone had a hot hand for the second-straight game, scoring 17 points. In the last two games, he has made 8-of-12 shots from 3-point range. After the Bears cut the deficit to 64-58, Bone hit a critical 3-pointer to push SIU's lead to nine with 4:44 remaining. Missouri State head coach Barry Hinson said his team should have known better than to leave the sophomore sharpshooter open.
The Bears stayed within striking distance late in the game, thanks to excellent outside shooting. They made 7-of-13 shots from 3-point range overall with five of the makes coming in the final five minutes. Especially deadly was Justin Fuehrmeyer. He entered the game shooting just 20 percent from behind the arc on the season, but made 5-of-9. Both teams shot 46 percent on the day, and Hinson said the difference in the game was turnovers -- SIU made only eight, while Missouri State committed 18.
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