Randal Falker energizes Salukis to victory

By Gus Bode

If the block didn’t do it, the steal probably did. If the dunk that followed the steal didn’t do it, the next block did.

Any one of those first four plays from Randal Falker let Evansville know the senior forward was in no mood for their double-teams on defense or layups on offense.

Falker set the pace for the Salukis (11-10,6-4) as they took a 14-3 lead and never looked back to secure a 59-39 victory. The senior forward started the game with a blocked shot, followed it with a steal, tossed in a layup and capped it off with one more block to send a clear message.

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In the first half of play, Evansville (6-14, 1-9) managed to convert only five shots when Falker was on the floor. The Evansville defense had just as much trouble containing Falker as its offense had scoring on him.

Falker put in nine first half-points, but it was the way he scored that kept Evansville looking for answers. Instead of just posting up, Falker would back out and cut to the hoop, which led him to receive passes with his momentum taking him to the rim.

When Falker wasn’t scoring he was setting up teammates for an open look. Falker set a pick for a Bryan Mullins layup, had a quick assist out of a double team for a Wesley Clemmons’ jumper and another dish for a Tyrone Green layup.

After drawing criticism for lack of senior leadership, Falker has played two consecutive games with the intensity that made him a preseason Wooden Award candidate.

Lowery said he credits the intensity to the practices that have been carrying over to the games, which has given the team new life.

“Now is the time for us to make a move,” Lowery said. “Being in third place allows us to really kind of creep in the weeds and allow people to really know that we’re still here. Now were not the hunted anymore. We’re hunting people, so it’s good for us mentally right now.”

Falker sat out most of the first part of the second half, but with 12:30 left to play he came back in and gave the Purple Aces another wake-up call.

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Evansville cut the lead down to nine but Falker’s first play off the bench was a powerful block that led to a Saluki fast break. The Salukis went on to consistently feed the ball down low to Falker where he would draw a foul every time and convert from the charity stripe.

Not all of Falker’s contributions showed in the final stat sheet. Falker was active on defense as he played from beyond the 3-point line to underneath the post.

If an Evansville player was open from beyond the arc, he closed in on him. If the ball went down low, he ran up behind the player to cause a loose ball.

Falker said he was focused on breaking any double team that Evansville threw at him.

“You just got to try to put your all into it sometimes because they’re walling you and trying to make you go one way,” Falker said. “A lot of times the pass is through them or around them so you just got to try to make the pass at all costs.”

Falker finished his night with 16 points, going 8-of-10 from the free throw line with three blocks. Falker stepped out of the game to the fan’s applause for the final time with 5:45 remaining and a 20-point Saluki lead.

Jeff Engelhardt can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 269 or [email protected]

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