March 4, 2010
By Tom Weber
ST. LOUIS, Mo. - They led, they squandered the lead and they lost the game in the final seconds. It was a fitting end to the season for the Salukis, who have mastered the art of close losses.
Josh Young's baseline jumper with 1.5 seconds remaining in the contest rallied Drake to a 63-61 win over Southern Illinois in the opening round of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on Thursday.
The Salukis (15-15) led by 10 points with eight minutes to go, but as they have done so many times before, they allowed an opponent to regroup and forge a late comeback. Nine of SIU's losses to MVC teams this year were by five points or less, including three such losses to Drake.
Southern led, 51-41, with just over eight minutes to go and appeared poised to finish off the pesky Bulldogs when the momentum suddenly changed.
John Freeman missed a dunk that would have given SIU a 12-point cushion, and Ryan Wedel quickly countered with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to seven. It was one of five triples Wedel made on the night, as he finished with a game-high 19 points.
"We get up 10 in the second half, miss a dunk -- miss a layup -- that's frustrating," Saluki head coach Chris Lowery said. "We can't live and die on whether we make our shot or not. That seems to be our biggest problem."
The Bulldogs (14-18) made the most of the opening SIU gave them, draining three more 3-point shots -- two by Young and one by Wedel -- to pull ahead, 57-55, with 3:48 remaining.
"It was a very easy game to finish off," Lowery said. "We finish some plays here, guard some open shots, don't give up some threes, and that's the game."
The teams traded buckets on their next two possessions, setting up the game-winner by Young, who hit a high-arching, fadeaway jumper over Freeman.
"You have to give those guys credit," Lowery said. "They fought us, and they never quit. They were down 10 and came all the way back and hit a tough one at the buzzer."
Carlton Fay had another solid outing for the Salukis with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field. Despite the missed dunk, Freeman was one of the bright spots for Southern with 12 points off the bench and five offensive rebounds. Teague had a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards, though he was only 2-of-7 from the charity stripe.
Add it all up, and Southern finished with a .500 record and an early exit from the tournament.
"I didn't want to play on Thursday, but we earned to play on Thursday," Lowery said. "We earned to go home on Thursday. Now it's up to us to change that. We have to change the future."
Lowery said he will meet individually with each player before sending them home for spring break.
"We have to go back to the drawing board and figure out some things we have to get better at," he said. "It's time to look in the mirror and then move forward."