Sunday, February 18, 2007

#15 SIU Proves To Be Top Dawg In 68-64 Victory Over #12 Butler

Maybe now SIU's basketball program can get the notoriety it deserves. Because after a win like that, they've earned it. Yesterday's 68-64 victory against #12 Butler in historical Hinkle Fieldhouse just might have put SIU's hoops squad back on the national map.

After the game, everyone seemed to be singing the praises of the Salukis (23-5). The Chicago Sun-Times sent reporter Lacy J. Banks to cover the game in Indianapolis, IN, marking the first time the Times has seemingly acknowledged a team that isn't one of the Chicago schools, the University of Illinois or Notre Dame. In today's Indianapolis Star, reporter Bob Kravitz praises the play of both schools and the BracketBuster system. Heck, even ESPN sent Dave O'Brien, one of ESPN's best play-by-play guys along with former Utah head coach Rick Majerus to provide color commentary.

And even though throughout much of the game, O'Brien and Majerus praised it as a battle of the two best "mid-majors" this game was much more than that. It was the first time two-ranked opponents went up against one another on BracketBuster Saturday. Two top-15 schools, nonetheless.

As for the game, it was everything it was billed to be....and a little more. SIU imposed their stellar style of play, which starts with in-your face defense from the opening tip. Butler (24-5) played their type of game too. They mimicked SIU's slow pace and limited turnovers, something SIU prides itself on when it comes to the defensive end. However, the Bulldogs found it difficult to find open shots throughout the majority of the game.

As Butler struggled to find shots, senior guard Jamaal Tatum stepped up with a game-high 20 points. Tatum was Mr. Big Shot down the stretch scoring eight points in a two-and-a-half minute stretch after Butler made it a two-point game with 5:14 left.

"He's really taken advantage of and made unbelievable plays and shots that only special people can make," said SIU coach Chris Lowery of his star guard's clutch shots.

Butler's coach Todd Lickliter credited Tatum's offensive game in tiring of Butler star Adam Graves who was held to 5 points.

"(Graves) was guarding #3 -- that's a good assignment," he said.

Tatum wasn't the only Saluki applying defensive pressure to Graves, who reportedly suffered from flu-like symptoms before the game. Senior guard Tony Young and sophomore guard Bryan Mullins rotated with J.T.3 in covering Butler's star. Offensively, Young chipped in 11 points and Mullins contributed four points and three assists.

Another Saluki that stepped up was junior forward Matt Shaw, who chipped in 15 points and several big shots, including a three-point basket after Butler had pulled within two, it was 49-47 at the time, 52-47 after Shaw's three.

The much maligned Saluki bench, which has come on strong of late, scored 13 points behind the energetic play of junior-college transfer Tyrone Green, freshman Joshua Bone, and Indianapolis-native Wesley Clemmons. Bone was limited to only five minutes, while Clemmons and Green played 21 and 18 minutes respectively and their stingy defensive presence was felt throughout the game.

One player SIU failed to stop was 6-foot-7-inch forward Adam Campbell, who went 5-for-9 from three-point range, contributing 17 points off the bench helping Butler stay withing striking distance.

"They're a great defensive team, but I guess it's hard to cover all the options," said Campbell.

SIU won in all facets of the game. Their offense was grinding long possessions throughout the game as Butler, at times, struggled with SIU's swift ball movement. Their defense was relentless to say the least, and that helped wear down the Bulldogs offense. Down the stretch, SIU hit 12-of-14 free-throws (86%) to help shut down any Butler comeback attempt.

When Young stole the ball as time expired and ran down court, Saluki Nation was finally able to celebrate. Saturday's victory helped erase the memories last year's BracketBuster 51-54 loss to Louisiana Tech at the SIU Arena. The lasting images from that game were Tatum and Young, who were then juniors, missing three-point shots that would have tied the game as time expired. The seniors weren't going to let that happen again.

With the victory SIU notched it's first win against a ranked opponent on the road for the first time since 1975. They also snapped Butler's 22-game home winning streak. Butler (#12) was the highest ranked team the Salukis have beat since beating #11 Villanova in 1988.

The Salukis close out MVC regular season play this week with a game on the road against Indiana State on Wednesday and a game Saturday night against Evansville on Senior Night.

On Monday when the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and the Associated Press poll come out, SIU will be looking to move up to it's highest ranking ever.

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