Men’s bball: High majors, little problem

By Gus Bode

It may have been a broken play, but it sufficed for the SIU men’s basketball team.

When Jamaal Tatum ran off a high screen from teammate Randal Falker in the waning moments of Sunday’s game against Virginia Tech, he was supposed to dish to Falker for a potential game-winning shot.

When the pass wasn’t there, Tatum pulled up from behind the three-point line and nailed the long-range shot with only 24 seconds remaining to push the Salukis to a 69-64 win over the Hokies.

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The win gave SIU a 2-1 record at the Old Spice Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., upping its season record to 4-1.

Head coach Chris Lowery said he was pleased with Tatum’s decision making when the X’s and O’s didn’t pan out.

“At the end of a game, very rarely do you get your first look,” Lowery said in a phone interview. “He was smart enough not to try to throw the ball with a chance to win it.”

Tatum’s dagger gave the Salukis a 67-64 lead, and junior forward Matt Shaw sealed the deal with two free throws.

But for the second time in three games, the Salukis surrendered a comfortable second-half lead. Five minutes into the first half, SIU found itself with an 11-point cushion after Shaw buried a 3-pointer.

At that point, the Salukis were in a similar situation they were in on Thanksgiving Day against the University of Arkansas. The Salukis held as much as a 9-point edge against the Razorbacks but succumbed late while Shaw and Falker were on the bench fouled out, and they lost, 61-53, in overtime.

Lowery said letting the lead slip had more to do with the level of teams the Salukis were facing, not anything his squad was doing wrong.

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“The biggest thing is the level of competition is tremendous,” Lowery said. “We’re fighting (players who are) 6-10, 6-11 with very little rest.”

Against the Hokies, however, the Salukis were able to fight off the late charges thanks to five late points from sophomore point guard Bryan Mullins and two Tatum free throws.

Shaw led the Salukis with 17 points, while Tatum chipped in with 16 and eight rebounds.

The 2-1 road trip is a stark contrast to how the Salukis opened play in 2005. At the Great Alaska Shootout last season, the Salukis stumbled to a 1-2 record, including a loss to Division II Alaska Anchorage.

In Florida, however, the Salukis’ play was hot. So hot, that Lowery said he had coaches calling from across the country trying to pick his brain about the Salukis’ tenacious defense.

The too-close-for-comfort defense paced the Salukis throughout the eight-team tournament.

Aside from knocking off an ACC school in the Hokies, SIU also toppled the Big Ten’s Minnesota on Friday, 69-53.

Lowery said the showing at the tourney gives his team a boost of confidence. It also proved the Salukis’ resilience and ability to bounce back after a tough loss.

“Last year, we really didn’t handle ourselves after a loss,” Lowery said. “We really struggled when we lost games.”

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