March 1, 2012
By Tom Weber
ST. LOUIS, Mo. - No. 8-seed Indiana State pulled away late for a 66-51 over No. 9-seed Southern No. 8-seed Indiana State pulled away late for a 66-51 over No. 9-seed Southern Illinois in the play-in round of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on Thursday.
It was a five-point game with 3:52 remaining, but the Sycamores (18-13) finished SIU off with a 15-5 run. They were led by Jake Odum's 17 points, eight rebounds and four steals. The sophomore point guard was a constant threat with the ball, probing Southern's defense for open shots or to set up a teammate.
"He's a great player and very smart," said Southern Illinois senior guard Justin Bocot, who played the final game of his career. "Odum is an all-around good player. It's hard to guard him off ball screens. He's always looking to pass first, and if he doesn't have that, he'll knock the shot down."
Both teams got off to a slow start offensively, but Southern went nearly seven minutes without a field goal in the first half, allowing ISU to pull out to a 22-13 lead.
The Salukis (8-23) rallied from nine points down in the second half, cutting the deficit to 39-37 on a 3-point shot by Kendal Brown-Surles with 13:07 remaining. ISU then went on a 10-3 run to push the lead back to nine.
Southern's final push cut the lead to 51-46 on a layup by Jeff Early, but that was as close as it could come. The Sycamores shot 57 percent from the field in the second half and 50 percent in the game, compared to 36 percent for the Salukis. Odum and back court mates Dwayne Lathan and Steve McWhorter worked the pick and roll to perfection.
"Toughness on the ball screen is something we've struggled with all year," Saluki head coach Chris Lowery said.
Senior forward Mamadou Seck played the entire and led SIU with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Brown-Surles added 12 points and Bocot 10.
"It hurts -- everything you put into the season is over," Bocot said. "There's no more one more game. There's no more next play. No more forget about it and go to the next day. It's done. It hasn't sunk in all the way."
The Salukis finished the season with a seven-game losing streak and the most losses in school history. Lowery said the season got off to a bad start and never recovered.
"It went wrong from the start when you had guys suspended and guys ineligible," he said. "The only thing it helped was our younger guys got to play a bunch early."
The Salukis lose Seck and Bocot to graduation, but will return 11 players next season and will add Wyoming transfer Desmar Jackson, freshman Bobo Drummond and transfer Travis Wilkins.
"Next year, we'll have a bunch of older guys which bodes well," Lowery said.
Lowery was asked about recent speculation regarding his job security.
"I haven't let it affect me at all," he said. "That's their job to speculate and make statements to the press. It's my job to keep my mouth shut and represent Southern the right way. That's what I've done all year. The integrity of the program is the same. I'm never going to embarrass Southern by my actions or what I say."