SLU (5-3) won its first four games at Chaifetz Arena before heading to Chicago for the final two games of the Chicago Invitational last weekend. The Billikens lost both games there, against Iowa State and Notre Dame, and then lost on the road at Georgia on Wednesday when their second half comeback attempt came up short.
"I'm really proud of the guys," SLU coach Rick Majerus said. "In eight days we played four games. We faced the player of the year in the Big 12, the lotto selection in (Craig) Brackins. We faced (Luke) Harangody, the MVP of the Big East at Notre Dame. We went down to Georgia and played the freshman of the year on the east side, (Trey) Thompkins, and we faced a very good Southern Illinois team tonight and we did that in eight days. The guys really responded well. They were dead tired."
The Billikens improved to 5-0 this season at Chaifetz and 19-3 at home since the impressive on-campus facility opened before last season. During that same span, SLU has four wins and 13 losses away from home.
"We have to put that same intensity that we do at home on the road," sophomore forward Willie Reed said. "Even though we're the only ones there for each other, we have to bring that from the bench to get that home-court advantage."
The Billikens had several strong performances on Saturday night, which allowed them to overcome a 31-30 halftime deficit and outscore the visitors 40-30 in the second half.
Sophomore point guard Kwamain Mitchell scored a team-high 22 points and added five assists and four rebounds. Reed added to his string of big games with 16 points, including making eight of 12 free throw attempts, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.
"You have to give credit to them because they played very hard and physical," Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery said. "Willie Reed was special, 16 (points) and 12 (rebounds). Their two best players showed up tonight."
Reed's performance came after suffering an ankle sprain in the second half.
"I had it in my mind that I wanted to play, no matter if I was going to limp out there," Reed said. "I just wanted to play. I love to play basketball. That's my passion."
The 6-foot-9 sophomore is now averaging 14 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.25 blocked shots per game, all team highs. Reed averaged 7.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.25 blocks per game as a freshman a year ago.
"He's turned himself into a pro potential player," Lowery said. "That's what we said going into this. He's really made himself a guy who nationally people want to know about. He's a great post defender, No. 1. He's got great bounce. He rebounds extremely well for a gangly guy like that who is long and thin."
Mitchell and Reed have plenty of help from their teammates. Freshman guards Christian Salecich and Justin Jordan each scored 10 points in 25 minutes. Majerus said Cassity, who scored four points in 21 minutes, played the best defensive game he has played since he's been at SLU.
Southern Illinois (3-2) was led by Kevin Dillard's game-high 23 points.
After the hectic four-game stretch in three different states, the Billikens won't play again until hosting Division II Rockhurst next Saturday.