SIU men’s basketball welcomes back 2002 Sweet 16 team, falls two points short of Bradley in thriller

CARBONDALE, Ill. (KBSI) – That close. Down by two in the final seconds to Bradley on Saturday, Southern Illinois University men’s basketball was a Jawaun Newton 3-pointer away from potentially winning the game. 

Salukis head coach Bryan Mullins said it stings to lose a game of that magnitude, but these games are what you live for as a player and coach. 

“Every single game when you get to mid-February and you’re playing for a championship, every game’s important, and it’s great experience for our program to be playing these types of games,” he said. “These are the games that you want at the arena here, and we’ve got to close them out next time.” 

At the Banterra Center to witness this 50-48 barnburner between two 20-8 teams were members of 2002 Salukis team that reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Bruce Weber, who won over 100 games as the Salukis head coach from 1998 to 2003 and made 13 NCAA Tournament appearances overall as a Division I coach, said the bonds he made while in Carbondale are still strong to this day. 

“We’ve stayed in contact with a lot of people here and still see them quite a bit, so it was a special time in our life, special teams, and we will always appreciate it,” he said.

Fifth-year senior JD Muila said he cherishes the time he and the team spent with these Saluki greats. 

“It’s amazing having them here, you know, just greatness in front of us, seeing them, and some of those guys came and spoke to us and gave us helpful advice,” he said. “These guys were greats, and I’m blessed to be able to see them and speak to them. They can teach me a lot.” 

So, despite Saturday’s loss, does the 2023 version of this program have a similar run in them as the 2002 team did? Mullins thinks so. 

“I love this team. We’ve got to continue to get better, and there’s a lot that can happen over these next couple weeks. Our guys will be ready for it.” 

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