Archive for Friday, March 23, 2007

Salukis falter down stretch

We ran out of time’

March 23, 2007

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— In a close, low-scoring basketball game, little, late hiccups can end a season.

Just ask Southern Illinois.

The Salukis went nearly the entire game without any big blunders, but certain points in the last few minutes cost them dearly Thursday in the HP Pavilion. That led to Kansas University's 61-58 come-from-behind victory in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinal, advancing the Jayhawks to the Elite Eight.

"We missed a layup, we had a turnover," SIU coach Chris Lowery said. "Things that we normally convert, and normally we take care of the ball in that situation, and we didn't.

"But I don't think it got away," Lowery added. "I think we ran out of time."

The Salukis' last great sniff of the lead came with 2:34 to play, when Bryan Mullins stole the ball in the backcourt and had a relatively clear path to the basket. He blew the layup, though, and a Jamaal Tatum put-back didn't fall, either.

Kansas held on to its 54-53 lead, and the Salukis never took it back.

"Easy shot," Tatum said of his put-back. "One of those shots you play when you're little, 21 tip-out, you always tip the shot in. I don't know if I could've shot it any softer than I did."

Regardless, the Salukis stayed alive - at times despite themselves.

Down 61-58, Tatum had a great look for the tie with 10 seconds to go. But he missed it, and Randal Falker's offensive rebound was nullified when he threw the ball away.

"That's the things where we talked about poise and composure coming out of the locker room at halftime," Lowery said. "We can't have those things. (The Jayhawks) are too good."

Though Kansas failed to capitalize on the ensuing free throws, the clock became the Salukis' biggest enemy. A desperation half-court three-pointer by Tony Young at the buzzer barely missed, ending Southern Illinois' season with a 29-7 record.

Those mistakes aside, Southern Illinois played a fabulous defensive game as expected, particularly on the perimeter. Kansas (33-4) shot a high percentage from the field, but never got many solid looks from three-point land.

SIU, meanwhile, was 6-of-25 from behind the arc, another stain on its mostly solid performance.

"I'm definitely proud of the way everybody on the team stepped up and played," Tatum said. "With that said, it's still a loss. There's no moral victories just because they're Kansas and we're Southern Illinois, as you guys put it, 'the mid-major.'"

It could be a watershed offseason for Southern Illinois. Both of Thursday's top scorers, Tatum and Young, graduate, and speculation surely will link Lowery to a number of coaching vacancies around college basketball.

Lowery dismissed the question of his future when posed to him Thursday, saying, "I'm the coach at Southern Illinois right now. That's the most important thing."

But Tatum was a little more outgoing about the situation, even though he was not asked specifically about it by reporters.

"I know a lot of schools are going to be trying to get him right now, but they are going to have to come with it if they want him for real," Tatum said, "because he ain't going nowhere."

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