ESTERO, Fla. — The start of the season has been rocky at times for Southern Illinois’ Marcus Fillyaw.
Fillyaw, who graduated from Topeka High in 2012, has earned the nod as the Salukis’ starting point guard, but won just one of their first five games.
“It’s been a struggle honestly,” Fillyaw said. “It’s been hard to deal with sometimes. Everybody is still getting used to each other because we have so many new faces, but we’re starting to pick it up, get along together, and figure out how everyone plays.”
After dropping their first game in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla., the Salukis (2-4) bounced back with a 67-48 win over Stetson (0-7) on Tuesday as Fillyaw scored seven points, dished out four assists, and had four steals in 28 minutes.
“Everybody’s heads have been down a little bit and we’ve been struggling to get a win,” Fillyaw said. “It definitely was a confidence-boost.”
Southern Illinois led 32-27 at halftime and held the Hatters without a field goal in the first seven minutes of the second half to build a comfortable 41-28 lead.
“It was a wonderful start, it was exactly what we needed because coach has been emphasizing defense,” Fillyaw said. “We kind of changed up some of the techniques we were using on defense these past couple of games and it worked for us.”
In the first half, Fillyaw helped spark the Salukis with a lay-up and two assists in an 83-second span.
“That’s what I’m supposed to do, making plays for my teammates and everything,” Fillyaw said. “Coach was trying to get me a little rest, that’s why I was coming out off and on. When I’m in there I try to do whatever I can to get everybody going.”
Fillyaw made 3 of 6 shots from the field including 1 for 3 from behind the arc. He missed his only free-throw attempt, which came after making a lay-up and being fouled on the play. He also had two rebounds and one turnover.
“I felt good about my performance personally and the team as well,” he said. “Everybody was focused in what we were supposed to be doing and we just gelled together.”
His four assists were a game-high and could have had more if shots fell as he made a number of good passes throughout the game.
“I felt very comfortable (with my passing)–part of that is being aggressive too and coming off ball screens hard and once everybody’s doing that, it just makes everything so much easier,” Fillyaw said.
Fillyaw has started all six games for the Salukis this season averaging 6.3 points, 2.3 assists, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.2 steals in 27.8 minutes. He is shooting 53.6 percent (15 for 28) from the floor and 38.5 percent from 3 (5 for 13).
It has been a transition period for him after transferring from Could County (Kan.) Community College, where he played one season.
“I’d probably say the pace and defending ball screens is probably the hardest,” Fillyaw said. “At the JUCO level there is ball screens, but not nearly as much as the Division I level and everyone is so much bigger.”
Transitioning to life in Carbondale has also been an adjustment.
“Carbondale is a little different, it’s a big party town, but I’ve tried to stay away from most of that that,” Fillyaw said. “It’s good for the most part and I’m doing well in school too.”
He scored 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting against Saint Louis on Nov. 16 in the Salukis second game of the season.
“I really needed it because my confidence was a little low,” Fillyaw said. “Knowing that what I can do here with what I did at the JUCO level, that helped me out a lot. I know what I’m capable of so I just have to keep it up.”
Fillyaw is one of two former players from Topeka currently playing at the Division I level (Onzie Branch at Gardner-Webb is the other).
“It’s a big accomplishment, but I look at it as basketball and there’s good players at all levels of the game and I’m just blessed to be where I’m at now,” he said.
Fillyaw was a first-team all-city selection as a junior and senior. He helped lead the Trojans to a 16-7 record and fourth place finish in Class 6A as a senior as he averaged 8.5 points a game.
“I remember all of the good times that we had,” Fillyaw said. “We had a goofy team almost every year and I feel like if we would have played a lot harder in high school we could have done a lot more, but I was happy with my experience and I wouldn’t trade it for nothing.”