Nov. 22, 2007
By Tom Weber
ANAHEIM, Calif. - For the last six days, Chattanooga head coach John Shulman prepped his team for the heralded Saluki trapping defense. His gameplan was simple -- go ahead and let Southern Illinois trap his players outside the 3-point arc, then make the pass to the open man for an easy look at the basket.
It was a good plan, a simple plan. Only it didn't work. Southern Illinois came with its traps, and Chattanooga melted under the withering pressure, turning the ball over 26 times. In the end, the #19-ranked Salukis cruised to a 63-41 win in the opening round of the Anaheim Classic on Thanksgiving Day.
"We had a very good gameplan that we were not able to execute because their pressure is amazing," Shulman conceded. "We invited their double-teams, and if we could get it out, you can get anything you wanted. The problem is getting it out. Our point guards did a very poor job."
In fact, point guards Kevin Bridgewaters and Keyron Sheard were completely flustered by the relentless traps. They combined to commit a dozen turnovers.
Saluki guards Tyrone Green (four steals) and Bryan Mullins (three steals) were especially active on the defensive end, creating so much havoc that Chattanooga could attempt just 15 shots inside the 3-point line the entire game.
SIU head coach Chris Lowery said Green played a "fantastic" game, even though the senior scored just three points. Lowery said it was Green's defense and rebounding (eight boards) that really sparked the Salukis (2-0).
"He's taken over the bulldog role that Tony Young had, but he's a much better rebounder with his toughness and his size and his demeanor," Lowery said.
"Whenever Bryan is in, we let him do whatever he thinks he needs to do offensively," Lowery said. "When we go to somebody else (at point guard), we go to grinding and look to Randal more."
Chattanooga had no answer for Falker, who bulled his way to the rim and, if he didn't score, often drew a foul. A career 54 percent shooter from the charity stripe, Falker made 11-of-14.
"I wish he had played like he played in the exhibition games," said Shulman.
Lowery said the Salukis simply weren't looking to establish Falker during the preseason.
"Randal was never our focus in the exhibition," he noted.
The start of the second half continued the downward trend for the Mocs, as SIU ballooned its lead to 46-26 during a breathtaking six-minute blitz of defensive pressure that resulted in fast breaks and easy look at the basket for SIU.
"That ain't no joke out there," Shulman said. "Their `D' is as sound and as good as anybody's in America."
Mullins, who scored 10 points and handed out four assists, said he saw the pressure take its toll on Chattanooga.
"You can start seeing it in their eyes and their body language," he said. "That just makes us pick it up even more.
"Our style is to grind you. It may not work the first 10 minutes, but in the second half, I think they really got tired of us constantly trapping them and really just took them out of their gameplan."
SIU will play Mississippi State at 2 p.m. CT on Friday on ESPN2.