Dec. 29, 2006
By Tom Weber
NORMAL, Ill. - Nothing Southern Illinois did defensively Friday night at Illinois State surprised Redbirds' head coach Porter Moser.
Unfortunately for Moser, his team appeared shell-shocked by the tenacity of the Saluki defense, which keyed a 68-49 Southern Illinois victory.
"Southern is different than any other team you play," said Moser after his team shot just 32 percent from the floor. "It's their defense. It's just non-stop. They take away so many things. They make you think about so many things."
One thought the Redbirds (8-5, 0-2) must have had was that shooting 3-point shots could help overcome SIU's sticky man-to-man pressure. It didn't. They made only 8-of-27.
"We knew they would take a lot of threes, but we really wanted to make sure we had them checked," Saluki head coach Chris Lowery said. "They were going to make tough ones, if they were going to make them."
For a few minutes early in the game, the perimeter strategy looked like it was working as Osiris Eldridge drained a couple of 3-pointers to give ISU an 8-5 lead at the 16:27 mark. However, the Redbirds made only one more field goal during the next nine minutes of action and trailed 27-20 at halftime.
"Their defense is great, and they don't let up," Moser said. "They are completely sold on their defense. All five guys are committed, no matter what five guys they have out there."
The Salukis (10-2, 1-0) shut out ISU's leading scorer, Boo Richardson, who missed all five shots in the game and turned the ball over six times. Lowery said Richardson's stat line was incidental.
"We try to guard everyone the same," he said. "If you've got a different jersey on, we're just going to get up in you and guard."
SIU opened the second half with a 15-4 run that featured two pull-up jumpers and a 3-pointer by Tony Young, plus a pair of buckets inside by both Matt Shaw and Randal Falker. The Salukis maintained a double digit lead the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, the Redbirds found it harder and harder to get an open look at the basket.
"We really tried to make sure they kept catching it further and further out as the half progressed and as the game progressed," Lowery said.
Illinois State made one run late in the contest, drawing to within 54-42 on an Eldridge layup with 3:39 remaining, but the Salukis answered with a 9-2 run.
"Everytime we would try to string something together, they would make a big play," Moser said. "Someone would make a big shot, or they'd get an offensive rebound. They did something to stop a run every single time."
Southern received another outstanding performance from Falker, who scored just 10 points, but grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds. It was the second-straight double-double for the junior forward. He also had four blocked shots and three assists.
"He was very unselfish today," Lowery said. "He really did a good job of finding people."
For the second-straight game on the road, SIU shot better than 50 percent from the field. Combined with a defense that ranks in the top five nationally, and you have the makings of a great team, according to Moser.
"I can't imagine anyone could be better than they are," he said. "There could be, but I have a hard time believing there are teams that have more than they have."
The Salukis continued their recent domination of the series with their in-state rivals, extending their winning streak to 10 games.
"When you win, it breeds confidence," Moser said. "Southern breeds confidence. They've won (with defense), and they know it. There is no gray area about what they've done to win. It's bred in their program."