Salukis do what Hokies couldn't: make shots and win

Posted: March 19, 2007

COLUMBUS, Ohio - In outlasting Illinois here Friday night, Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg called his team "offensively challenged."

This was after his Hokies scored the game's last 12 points over the last 4 minutes, 18 seconds of the game to overrun the hapless Illini.

It sounded odd at the time. Turns out, the coach knew his team well.

Too well.

Yesterday, the Illini's cousins down the road, the Salukis of Southern Illinois University, applied a longer, more relenting form of pressure, producing an even quicker and more pronounced result.

With four players scoring in double figures, Southern Illinois needed neither final-minute heroics nor outstanding individual efforts to push past the Hokies, 63-48, in the second round of the West Region at Nationwide Arena.

Southern Illinois will meet top-seeded Kansas on Thursday night in San Jose, Calif. It is the third trip to the Sweet 16 in the school's history, the first since 2001.

Jamaal Tatum, the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, scored 21 points, including three key three-pointers that seemed to dispirit Greenberg's disjointed bunch. But the key ingredient, as always in Salukis coach Chris Lowery's system, was a suffocating, knee-knocking defensive effort that limited the Hokies to just 20 first-half points, and seemed to wear on their minds as much as their bodies.

"A lot of teams go out and say, 'I'm going to stop my man,' " Tatum said. "But if we don't stop our man, we know we have help. Coach talks about not playing selfish defense. We know that our teammates will help us out."

Ranked third nationally in points allowed, Southern Illinois held an opponent to 25 or fewer in the first half for the 23rd time this season. Tech's effort was its lowest total of the season, and resembled a November game between the teams, also won by Southern Illinois.

The victory - their 15th in the last 16 games - gave the Salukis a school-record 29 victories this season. It also left Greenberg with the same simple explanation from Friday night.

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

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