Hundreds of fans greet Salukis with cheers upon return

By Gus Bode

MARION – Eardrum-thumping chants of “SIU” resonated through a sea of Saluki fans Sunday night at Williamson County Regional Airport.

The superstars were back in southern Illinois.

More than 500 people gathered for more than an hour in steadily dropping temperatures to greet the Salukis, fresh off a 63-48 win in NCAA tournament action.


As Coach Chris Lowery exited the Delta carrier with his young daughter nestled in his left arm, the scores of fans outside and inside the airport erupted in adulation.

Junior forward Randal Falker trekked the tarmac with a limp, followed by a line of some groggy-eyed teammates, athletics staff, band members, university administrators and others who departed the flight from Columbus, Ohio.

“It couldn’t get any better,” said senior guard Jamaal Tatum as he walked through the crowd of people who were snapping photos by the second and reaching out to slap hands with the victors.

SIU secured its third ever Sweet 16 berth in the NCAA Tournament with the win over Virginia Tech. The Salukis are slated to play ranked Kansas on Thursday in San Jose, Calif. Tip off is 6:25 p.m.

Kathy Abney, an accountant in the Office of Financial Aid, said she felt “absolute relief” when SIU picked up the win.

“I was a nervous wreck through the whole thing,” said Abney, a 1992 SIUC graduate.

Abney also had some words for former SIU Coach Bruce Weber, whose University of Illinois Fighting Illini fell 54-52 in the tournament’s first round.


“Illinois couldn’t get the job done, but we got it done,” she said. “Don’t send a boy to do a man’s job.”

Nearby, 9-year-old Kelsey Pearson of Carterville waved a Saluki pennant as her mother Michelle held her daughter on her shoulders.

“I love the Dawgs,” said Kelsey Pearson, whose rosy cheeks joined the hundreds of others in the chilly weather.

Mike Reed of Marion, a self-proclaimed lifelong Saluki fan, said the victory was awesome for the university and the region.

“We know b-ball in this area,” said Reed, a 1975 SIUC graduate. “Indiana’s got nothing on us. We finally got our little piece of the pie.”

Interim Chancellor John Dunn, who was among a few of the university administrators who represented SIU in Ohio, said while the win was a high point for the men’s basketball squad, it took the effort of many to reach that level.

“It’s a great team, but our band, our cheerleaders, our Saluki Shakers really helped represent us as a total package,” he said en route to retrieving his luggage. “They were all top-notch.”

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