Dec. 2, 2008
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - After three-straight losses, in which opponents averaged 80 points per game, Southern Illinois head coach Chris Lowery recognized something was amiss with his team. When senior forward Tony Boyle spoke up after last week's loss at Western Kentucky, everything came into focus.
"Tony Boyle told me I was too soft," Lowery said, shortly after his team smothered Saint Louis, 64-48, Tuesday night. "I let some things slip, and that was on me. I needed to get back to coaching how I need to coach, and these kids responded."
Four days of old-school, rigorous Saluki practices paid off as the Salukis (3-3) were able to wear down and frustrate the Billikens (2-4) throughout the game, holding them to 36 percent shooting, including 3-of-16 from outside the 3-point arc.
"Our practices have to be harder than the games," Lowery said. "They can't be reversed. We've been resting on defense for three-straight games, and we didn't rest at all on defense (tonight). We flew around and buzzed around."
Open shots were few for Saint Louis, especially early. The Bills missed their first eight shots and converted only one field goal in the first nine and a half minutes of the game.
"We were in position," Lowery said. "We never allowed them to get any penetration, and we never allowed them to get to the point where they really got an angle on us defensively. I thought our rotations were great."
The Salukis led, 24-16, at halftime, and were paced offensively by their bench, which scored 14 of the points. Christian Cornelius was a key factor, scoring five of his seven points in the first half, including a dunk with 3:30 remaining that put SIU up by nine.
SIU did much of its damage from the free throw line, making 27-of-31 shots from the charity stripe. Carlton Fay had only two field goals on the night, but he finished with a game-high 17 points by making all 12 of his free throw trys.
Southern never trailed in the game and steadily pulled away in the second half. After Saint Louis closed the gap to 39-33 with 9:02 remaining, SIU reeled off a 6-0 run. The burst featured a nifty pull-up jumper by Kevin Dillard, who scored nine points off the bench. Minutes later, the lead was up to 14 as Bryan Mullins knocked down a shot for two of his eight points.
"Mullins gets two baskets, and it seems like they were 22 baskets, and both of them were going left," said Saint Louis head coach Rick Majerus. "We talked to them about left, left and left some more. I don't know if he can complete a play going right."
Overall, Majerus was impressed with his opponent.
"I'd be surprised if they did not win their league," he said. "They've got older players and good depth. I thought their freshmen played well. They're a good club, and I applaud them for their effort. They clearly beat us."
Lowery admitted he gave his young team too much freedom prior to tonight's game, saying it was time to reign his young squad in.
"I told them they did it their way for the first five games, and now they're going to do it my way for the rest of the season," he said.