Saluki halftime lead erased by increased defensive pressure

By Gus Bode

OKLAHOMA CITY – The SIU men’s basketball team went up against a screaming orange-clad crowd and a legendary head coach on the verge of retirement in his final NCAA Tournament, not to mention the No. 6 team in the country.

Although the No. 7 seed Salukis (27-8) couldn’t overcome the mountain of obstacles Sunday, falling 85-77 to No. 2 seed Oklahoma State (26-6) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Ford Center, they still managed to put up a fight worthy of admiration from OSU coaches and players alike.

Combined with Friday’s 65-56 first-round victory against No. 10 seed Saint Mary’s, the Salukis perhaps shed the mid-major label once and for all. At least in the eyes of OSU head coach Eddie Sutton.


“They are not a mid-major team,” Sutton said. “They could play in the Big 12 or any major conference.”

Despite an Oklahoma State partisan crowd that Sutton said was the most fans he’s ever seen at an NCAA Tournament for one team, the Salukis came out hot and led 46-39 at the half. SIU jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead behind two early threes by Jamaal Tatum and a breakaway lay up by Darren Brooks.

Oklahoma State would quickly claw back, with the rest of the half going back and forth the remainder of the opening 20 minutes. After the Cowboys built a 26-20 lead, SIU answered with a 26-13 run to close the first half.

“We were hyped up and ready to go,” Brooks said. “It was a big game, and we came out ready from the start.”

But Oklahoma State got it going as soon as the second half began, running out to a 12-0 run in the first four minutes to quickly reclaim the lead, helped largely by two JamesOn Curry three pointers.

SIU would reclaim a 52-51 lead on a Brooks free throw, but it was the last Saluki lead. Oklahoma State eventually built its advantage to as much as 10 at 67-57 with 6 minutes, 53 seconds to play in the game. The Salukis would climb back to within four, 72-68, on a trey by Tatum at the 2:16 mark but couldn’t pull any closer.

“Coach kind of got on us at halftime on the guards and big guys to pick it up defensively [in the second half],” said reserve OSU forward Terrence Crawford. “I think we were just kind of feeling them out in the first half.”


SIU head coach Chris Lowery confirmed that the Cowboys’ increased defensive pressure led to the Salukis’ 46-31 second-half deficit.

“We haven’t seen anyone pressure us like that all year at the guard position,” Lowery said. “They took us out of things and got after our big guys. That was the difference.”

While Oklahoma State picked up its defense in the second half, forward Ivan McFarlin was spectacular throughout the game. The senior scored a career-high 31 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the field, including an 11-of-12 performance from the free-throw line.

Nearly all of McFarlin’s field goals came off lay ups opened up by the penetration of senior forward Joey Graham, who finished with six assists, or guards John Lucas and Curry.

“We tried to play good defense on them, tried playing straight up, but they were able to get some buckets on us,” said freshman forward Matt Shaw. “You’ve just got to give them credit because they played hard down low in the post and they just played better than we did today.”

Brooks scored 17 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists for SIU, and Tatum scored a team-high 22. Along with Stetson Hairston’s five points, SIU’s starting guards outscored OSU’s backcourt 44-38.

But the SIU frontcourt, led by Shaw’s 10 points and LaMar Owen’s eight, was outscored 47-21.

“We knew it was coming, and we struggle with big guys that can score,” Lowery said. “All of our losses this season have been against teams with big guys having great games against us. I told our team it was a battle in the trenches and in the trenches [McFarlin] either got fouled or made the shot.”

There were 51 fouls called in the contest, 28 against SIU, and 63 free throws were hoisted, with OSU capitalizing on 29-of-33 and SIU 25-of-30.

Randal Falker and Shaw fouled out for the Salukis, and Owen and Tatum finished with four fouls apiece. Graham battled foul trouble all game, finishing with four along with McFarlin for the Cowboys.

The Salukis shot 41.1 percent – 33.3 percent in the second half – and were out-rebounded 30-28.

“They came in and played in a tough situation – this was basically a home game for [OSU]. The crowd got into it, and it was tough for us to get out of it,” Lowery said. “We lost to a very good team, and I am very proud of our how our young men played.”

Reporter Adam Soebbing can be reached at [email protected]