Dec. 2, 2006
By Matt Crouch
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Placing four Salukis in double figures, coupled with a strong bench effort, the Southern Illinois University men's basketball team rolled to a 65-56 win over Saint Louis Saturday at SIU Arena.
Junior Randal Falker posted a season-high 17 points in the game to lead all scorers. But, he was only one of four Salukis to finish in double figures as he was followed by Matt Shaw (13), Jamaal Tatum (11) and Bryan Mullins (11).
Saint Louis falls to 5-2 on the season while hte Salukis improve to 6-1.
The game marks the 14th in a row that the Salukis have held their opponent to less than 65 points. The streak dates back to the team's 54-51 win over Louisiana Tech during the 2005-06 season.
Combining for 30 of SIU's 65 points as well as 14 rebounds, Falker and Shaw dominated the game and contained SLU's big man, Ian Vouyoukas. The Billikens' 6-10 senior, who put up a double-double against the Salukis last season, was held to 10 points and eight rebounds, along with four turnovers.
"This year we just tried to fight them from the get-go. You could tell because everybody was silent. Seems like everybody was getting fouled. We adjusted to Ian Vouyoukas' foul play and basically we played them as a team instead of individuals," said Falker.
The play by Southern's big men did not go unnoticed by SIU head coach Chris Lowery.
"It's what we expected from Matt and Randal now, we didn't expect it last year. We expected growing pains. Those two together have so much to offer on both sides of the ball and because Matt can shoot the three, he stretches the defense," said Lowery.
Shaw's ability to execute on the three-point attempts, of which he was 3-for-4 on the day, is a quality that Saint Louis head coach Brad Soderberg believes makes Shaw a complete player.
"Matt is what I thought he would be. He's a complete player. He rebounds, he can score around the goal, he can make threes, he's unselfish, he's strong and tough. He's a complete player, that's why I wanted him to come to SLU," said Soderberg.
The first half of Saturday's game went back and forth, with each team making little runs at the lead. The Billikens led by as many as six with 12:23 to play in the first half, but the Salukis fought back in the game.
A Tyrone Green three-pointer cut the SLU lead in half an back-to-back three pointers by Tatum and Shaw, respectively, gave Southern Illinois a three-point lead with less than seven minutes left in the first period.
Saint Louis was not ready to give up yet, though, and led by two with as little as 3:32 left in the half. But good free-throw shooting and a Wesley Clemmons follow-up dunk on a missed Tatum layup gave SIU the lead at the half, 31-25.
Even with the six-point lead, Lowery felt that his squad lacked the energy necessary for a team of Saint Louis' caliber.
"I thought our energy was bad in the first half. Saint Louis is a very good team. That's a NCAA Tournament team. With the size they have, and those three little guys out front can all make plays," said Lowery.
"In the second half, we just went after them. The first half we weren't playing in a frenzy. During the half we talked about it and knew, defensively, we needed to play in a frenzy. We over-coached in the first half, so in the second we said `SIU we need to get in there and do what we need to do." We needed to get in the gaps and really pressure the ball. We kind of stifled them defensively."
The added defensive pressure was definitely felt by the Billikens in the second half. After only committing six turnovers in the first half, the Salukis forced an additional 10 to give Saint Louis 16 for the game. SIU finished the game with nine turnovers.
SLU's Kevin Lisch also felt the pressure. The fourth-leading scorer in the Atlantic 10 conference, Lisch scored 12 points in the first half, but could only muster two in the second.
After taking the lead with 2:21 left in the first half, the Salukis never looked back. SIU scored the first six points of the second half and eventually built a 13-point lead at the 14:43 mark.
Saint Louis went on a run of its own, cutting SIU's lead to four with 9:14 left in the game, but that is as close as the Billikens would come as the Salukis came back to win, 65-56.
One of the keys for Southern in maintaining its defensive intensity throuhgout the game, holding SLU to its second-lowest point total of the season, was the bench play.
"The bench came in and played huge. The bench, and a few starters, they actually came back and took the lead in a matter of minutes. From there, everybody just kept playing," said Falker on the SIU's surge at the end of the first half.
"I've seen the bench grow a tremendous amount as individuals, as a team. Everyone works really hard. We fight each other everyday in practice, so they have a choice now: you either have to get better or you get rolled over. That's college basketball, unfortunately."
Lowery chimed in with Falker on the success of the Saluki bench. In comparison to Saint Louis, the Billiken bench tallied 26 minutes in the game as compared to 60 from the Saluki bench. SIU's bench also outscored SLU's, 11-3.
"We got good minutes from the bench. Wesley Clemmons got 24 minutes from the bench which is great for us. His energy is terrific, he's physical, he's guarding, rebounding, doing what we want him to do at the beginning of the season. Our bench was excellent tonight," said Lowery.
"Our kids make plays. Our kids step up and that's what you want from your bench. Some of them had good practices and that's how you get rewarded. You can't dog it in this program and just expect to get minutes just because. That point was pretty clear."
Another difference-maker for the Salukis came in its free-throw shooting. While struggling from the line at points in the season, Southern Illinois had its best free-throw shooting against Saint Louis.
The Salukis hit 17 of their 20 free throws for 85 percent, marking the team's highest single-game percentage of the season. On the other end of the court, the Billikens were 13-for-23 from the line for 56.5 percent.
Southern Illinois returns to action on Saturday, Dec. 9 with a 7 p.m. matchup against Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, Ky.