The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team incurred a 63-50 setback on Tuesday night at Southern Illinois, splitting a two-game Missouri Valley Conference road trip. Southern Illinois freshman star Marcus Domask scored 21 points on 8-of-8 shooting in the first half alone, spurring the hosts to victory at the Banterra Center in Carbondale. Valpo’s top performance came courtesy of senior John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville), who equaled career bests in points and rebounds with nine of each. Another Valpo highlight was a dunk by sophomore Javon Freeman-Liberty (Chicago, Ill. / Whitney Young) that would later appear on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays.
How It Happened
- Valpo jumped out to a fast start, riding early 3s by Mileek McMillan (Merrillville, Ind. / Merrillville) and Nick Robinson (Chicago, Ill. / Kenwood [Saint Joseph’s]) to a 6-0 edge. The guests stayed in front for the first eight minutes, but Domask drilled one from distance with 12:02 to go in the opening half to nudge the Salukis ahead for the first time at 12-11.
- That was just the start of things to come for Domask, who scored the final 15 SIU points of the opening half. A steal by Eron Gordon (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedal [Seton Hall]) set up McMillan for a fast-break layup that leveled the score at 19. However, Domask scored the game’s next seven points and suddenly Southern Illinois owned a 26-19 edge with 3:42 remaining until halftime.
- Valpo’s star player had an answer for Domask’s hot streak, as Freeman-Liberty came to life with baskets on three straight possessions, including a triple and a highlight-real dunk. The poster slam, which came with 1:41 left in the half, made an appearance on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays on Tuesday evening, checking in at No. 5.
- The Brown & Gold got within one when Kiser squeezed an offensive board and converted the second chance with a layup, but Domask hit a trey to close out the half and send his team into the break up 32-28.
- The early portion of the second half is where the game’s separation occurred, as Valpo didn’t score in the first five minutes. By the time Zion Morgan (Chicago, Ill. / Kewnood [Wabash Valley/UNLV]) came away with a steal and finished a transition layup for the team’s first points of the half, the Salukis (8-8, 2-1) had ran off eight straight points to start the stanza and enjoyed an 11-0 run spanning the two periods.
- Valpo responded with a 10-0 run of its own, cutting a 13-point lead to three at 46-43 with 6:44 left in the second half. The Valpo defense was critical during that stretch, holding the Salukis scoreless from the 10:24 mark to the 5:27 mark, a drought of nearly five minutes. But when the shots started to go, they again came in bunches, as Southern Illinois responded with a seven-point burst of its own to widen the lead back to double figures with 4:09 to go.
- Valpo had two possessions late in the game where the team had three or more opportunities thanks to offensive rebounding, but came away empty handed. One sequence featured four straight offensive rebounds and no points. Valpo would come no closer than eight points over the final five minutes.
Inside the Game
- Freeman-Liberty led Valpo in scoring with 16 points, the 12th time in the last 14 games he’s led the way. He finished in double figures for the 16th consecutive game.
- Kiser and Clay shared the team lead in rebounding with nine apiece. This marked Clay’s second consecutive game leading the team in boards and the third time this season he has done so. In addition, the nine rebounds marked a career high. Two of his three games with seven caroms or more have been the last two contests. The freshman’s previous rebounding career high was eight on Nov. 27 vs. Trinity Christian. Six of his rebounds on Tuesday came on the offensive end.
- Kiser has owned or shared the team lead in the rebound department in six games this season. He had nine points go along with his nine boards on Tuesday, coming within one point and one rebound of a double-double. The senior equaled career highs in both categories. He has now scored exactly nine points five times this season and six times in his career, but has yet to enter double figures. His nine boards were an outright season high and matched a career watermark reached on three other occasions, most recently Feb. 10, 2019.
- Kiser’s big day also included three steals to tie a career high from Feb. 5, 2019 at Illinois State. Gordon paced the team with four steals, usurping his personal best of three set on Nov. 25 vs. Cincinnati.
- Valpo pulled down 15 offensive rebounds, the team’s most since also squeezing 15 on Nov. 17 vs. North Dakota. Tuesday’s offensive rebound total exceeded each of the squad’s first two Missouri Valley Conference contests combined (12 total).
- Morgan was also a factor on the boards in Tuesday’s game, finishing with six caroms, his second-highest total of the season.
- Domask finished with 23 points to pace Southern Illinois.
Valpo (8-8, 1-2) will be back on its home court to welcome Drake for a 3 p.m. start on Saturday afternoon at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 with coverage links available on ValpoAthletics.com.