With the regular season Missouri Valley Conference title secured, many wondered what was there to play for Saturday night. Revenge? Sure, SIU's last loss did come at the hands of the Purple Aces of Evansville. Tune-up for the conference tourney? Yeah, that makes sense, you always want to go into March playing your best basketball. But more than that, SIU played for its senior leaders Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young who have helped bring championships and tournament appearances to SIU, and a smile to this young man's face.
A sell out crowd of 9,628 filled the SIU Arena one last time to give Tatum and Young a proper send-off. Prior to the game was the tribute ceremony that included senior transfer Kobby Acquah, and senior walk-on C.J. Smith. But the night began to Tatum and Young.
Tatum had another stellar offensive showing with 15 points on 50% shooting, dropping off 6 assists, and also went perfect at the free-throw line. Tatum's highlight of the night was his fast break slam dunk, his first "real" slam dunk that brought the Saluki faithful to their feet, capping a 14-2 SIU scoring run.
"I hope ya'll got that on camera," Tatum said after the game. "That's not a baby dunk. That's a senior dunk right there."
Young had a strong offensive showing as well, with 17 points and 5 assists to go along with 3 steals.
Not to be outdone by his senior teammates, junior forward Randal Falker dropped a career high 30 points on 13-of15 shooting from the floor, to go along with 7 rebounds, leading the #13 -ranked Salukis (25-5, 15-3) in both categories.
Evansville (14-16, 6-12) proved to be a worthy opponent on this night, shooting 52% from the field in this game, and could provide an interesting match-up early in the MVC Tourney next weekend in St. Louis. The Purple Aces shot nearly 70% from the field in the first half and had a 44-43 lead with 15:38 left in the game. That's of course before the Salukis went on that 14-2 run I mentioned earlier.
Evansville was lead by Matt Webster's 21 points on the inside, while sharp-shooting guards Kyle Anslinger and Jason Holsinger combined for 21 points and collectively shot 50% from the three-point line.
In the end, it wasn't enough for the Purple Aces as SIU won the game 76-69.
- After the game, the fans were unable to storm the court so instead the players came into the crowd and took a picture with the Dawg Pound.
- After cutting down the nets of both baskets to the sound of Queen's "We Are The Champions," many (if not all) the Salukis stayed on court to do interviews with media people and to sign autographs for fans in another sign of appreciation.
- Both Tony Young and Jamaal Tatum sported t-shirts before the game sporting the phrase "Floorburn U."
- Speaking of t-shirts, the MVC championship t-shirts have quite a clear message "This is OUR conference." SIU has won the MVC regular season title in 2002, 03, 04, 05 and 07 to go along with their 2006 MVC Tourney championship.
- SIU's 76 points is the most they've scored in a game all season long.
- Though it will be overlooked by media giants, the MVC has had quite the year with 8 of its 10 teams finishing with at least a .500 record.