Stifling defense keys Southern Illinois win over Va. Tech

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Compared to practice, sometimes Southern

Illinois' games are almost like a day off for the Salukis.

Driven by the tenacious defense instilled during those workouts

-- and three big 3-pointers by Jamaal Tatum -- Southern Illinois

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. The Salukis have won 15 of 16, 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 place to play.

"We play so hard in practice that when we go against other

teams it's almost easier," guard Bryan Mullins said.

The Salukis advance to meet the Kansas-Kentucky winner in a

regional semifinal on Thursday night in San Jose, Calif. Rest

assured that neither team wants to face a team so dedicated to

floor burns and physical play.

"A lot of teams go out and say, 'I'm going to stop my man.' But

if we don't stop our man, we know we have help," Tatum said.

"Coach talks about not playing selfish defense. We know that our

teammates will help us out."

Tony Young added 17, Mullins 11 and Randall Falker 10 points and

12 rebounds for Southern Illinois (29-6), which surpassed the

victory total from the 2000-01 team that also made it to the round

of 16.

It wasn't all defense. The Salukis matched their season best

with 12 3-pointers on 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

guard who came in averaging 18 a game, scored seven points.

"They are a strong defensive team," Washington said. "We

couldn't get any easy buckets to get us going. It was


In practice, the Salukis play a game with no fouls and no out of

bounds that coach Chris Lowery calls "Keep Playing." There's no

whining, which develops toughness.

"That's how we teach them, just to play no matter the

circumstance," Lowery said.

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


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 -- like a game

of keepaway with scholarships.

Young's third 3 gave the Salukis a 44-31 edge at the midpoint of

the second half. Against such an aggressive defense, and an offense

intent on keeping the score down, the Hokies had no chance.

"It's very, very simple: you make shots, you win. You don't

make shots, you don't win," said Virginia Tech coach Seth

Greenberg, whose team was outscored by 30 points behind the arc.

"We didn't make shots. We had good looks early in the game but we

didn't make them."

The biggest cheer of the second half from SIU fans came when

Tatum put up a shot with a second left on the shot clock -- and then

got his own rebound. At many schools, those moments are ignored.

Tony Boyle started in place of the Salukis' third-leading

scorer, Matt Shaw, who sprained an ankle at halftime of their 71-61

first-round win over Holy Cross. The Salukis didn't miss a beat.

Besides, it's not individuals but the way their team plays

defense that sets Southern Illinois apart.

"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."

Somebody else will find that out next week.