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SIU advances to Sweet Sixteen

Jamaal Tatum, who is from Jefferson City, scored 21 points on Sunday.
Jamaal Tatum, who is from Jefferson City, scored 21 points on Sunday.


Columbus, Ohio – The Southern Illinois University men's basketball team beat Virginia Tech Sunday to advance to the NCAA tournament's Sweet Sixteen. The Salukis will play Kansas on Thursday.

Driven by a tenacious defense, the Salukis got three big 3-pointers from Jamaal Tatum and pulled away from Virginia Tech 63-48 Sunday in the second round of the West Regional.

Tatum, the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, scored 21 points to help the Salukis (29-6) win for the 15th time in 16 games and set a school record for victories in a season.

This win was due to defense, which is nothing new for kids who must buy into the concept that 'defense wins games' or else you might want to find another school.

"It was more like a fire burning in everybody," guard Tony Young said of what was behind the Salukis' strong defensive pressure. "We just wanted to go out and win."

The Salukis advanced to meet Kansas in the West Regional semifinal on Thursday night in San Jose, Calif.

Young added 17, Bryan Mullins 11 and Randall Falker 10 points and 12 rebounds for Southern Illinois, which surpassed its victory total from the 2000-01 team that also made it to the round of 16.

It wasn't all defense, though. The Salukis matched their season best with 12 3-pointers on just 21 attempts.

"Since everyone knows us for our defense and we play so hard on defense, people don't realize that we can score," Mullins said. "We've been getting a lot better on offense. That showed today."

Jamon Gordon had 16 points and Deron Washington added 15 for fifth-seeded Virginia Tech (22-12), which hadn't been held to fewer than 54 points all season. Zabian Dowdell, a first-team All-ACC choice who came in averaging 18 a game, had just seven.

"They are a strong defensive team," Washington said. "We couldn't get any easy buckets to get us going. It was frustrating."

Tatum had hit the decisive 3 to break a late tie when the teams met back in November at a tournament in Florida, a game the Salukis won 69-64.

SIU's fans chanted "De-fense! De-fense!" and the Salukis third in the nation allowing 56.3 points a game responded during a 16-2 run bridging the halves. Forget flashy dunks or no-look passes, the spurt was built on man-to-man defense and a couple of timely shots. The crowd cheered louder after defensive stops than after baskets.

Ahead 22-20, the Salukis stretched their lead when Tatum who later banked in a 3 from the top of the key and also hit a free throw on a bank shot made two shots behind the arc to close the half for a 28-20 lead. It was the fewest points Virginia Tech scored in a half this season.

Coach Chris Lowery said there was nothing special about the defensive game plan.

"The same as every other game," he said. "We don't change much."

The Salukis then opened the second half with Tatum hitting another 3 to push the lead to 31-20. For much of the rest of the game, SIU was content to spread the floor, melt away time and put up a shot with a few seconds left on the shot clock.

"It's very, very simple: you make shots, you win. You don't make shots, you don't win," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "We didn't make shots. We had good looks early in the game but we didn't make them."

Tony Boyle started in place of the Salukis' third-leading scorer, Matt Shaw, who sprained an ankle at halftime of their first-round win over Holy Cross. The Salukis didn't miss a beat.

"Some of the toughest days I've had as a basketball player have been at practice going against my teammates," Tatum said. "I know how hard our defense is because I go against it every day."


Sunday's games also set up the next round of three games that will be played in St. Louis. Starting on Friday, Butler, Florida, UNLV, and Oregon will play at the Edward Jones Dome. The last team standing among those four will head to Atlanta as one of the Final Four.