Blue in the Lou

By Gus Bode

Salukis lose in St. Louis for 4th year in row

ST. LOUIS – For senior guard Stetson Hairston and head coach Chris Lowery, 2003’s 80-56 loss to Creighton in the championship game was the toughest Missouri Valley Conference tournament loss to accept from the last four years.

But for seniors Darren Brooks and Josh Warren, Sunday’s 65-61 loss to Southwest Missouri State was the most difficult to swallow.


“It ranks No. 1 because this is my last go-around to try to get a championship,” Warren said.

It ranks at the top for Brooks because SIU had the game in its hands.

After disposing of Indiana State 64-49 in Saturday’s quarterfinals, the Salukis entered halftime Sunday with a 42-26 advantage and led by as many as 23 points with 4 minutes, 17 seconds to play in the first half. SIU shot seven-of-11 from the three-point arc and committed just two turnovers to go with nine assists in the first 20 minutes.

But the Salukis were outscored 39-19 in the second half as SMS took its first lead with 42.4 seconds remaining in the game. The 23-point comeback was the largest in MVC Tournament history.

“Yeah, it definitely hurts the most, letting them slowly chip away at the lead like that and then finally take over,” Brooks said. “It really hurts.”

Despite four straight regular-season conference championships, the Salukis have felt the sting of defeat at the conference tournament in St. Louis each of the last four years.

It has been a spectacular regular-season run for the Saluki seniors, but trips to St. Louis always seem to end badly. It is fitting that the tournament is hosted in the Savvis Center, the home of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues.


For SIU the last four seasons, St. Louis has always been blue.

Last year, the Salukis fell 80-74 to SMS. In 2002, the Salukis lost to Creighton 84-76 in the championship. And in 2001, SIU was upset 67-64 in the quarterfinals by Indiana State.

While the Salukis were obviously disappointed, the locker room wasn’t as dreary following the game as one might expect. Most of the players chomped at some Papa John’s Pizza as they sat waiting to accommodate the cluster of media that flooded the locker room about 10 minutes after the final buzzer.

Mike Dale sat shirtless with his head down for a brief period, and Jamaal Tatum’s eyes were welled with tears as he made his way out of the locker room to the post-game press conference.

The mood was definitely somber, but SIU just looked like a team that had been there before, which it obviously has each of the last four years.

Redshirt sophomore guard Tony Young sat emotionless next to his locker, but he was definitely feeling the sting, mentioning how it was his third time falling short of expectations in St. Louis. He also mentioned how badly he and the underclassmen wanted to send off the seniors with a first-place trophy from the MVC Tournament.

“I would have loved to see it happen that way,” Young said. “But fairytale endings don’t always happen. You’ve just got to take the jab and roll with it.”

The pain of yet another MVC tourney loss was slighted because the Salukis are likely in the NCAA Tournament. Although not all of the Salukis are willing to admit they are in the tournament, they have repeatedly been mentioned by nearly everyone in the national media as a lock for an at-large bid.

With 26 wins and an RPI of 13, SIU clearly has a strong claim.

Earlier Sunday afternoon during halftime of Ohio State’s upset over No. 1 Illinois, Seth Davis of CBS said the Salukis are a team he believes is an NCAA lock – and one that has what it takes to make a run to the Sweet 16.

Hairston, a native of nearby Belleville, said making another NCAA Tournament would go a long way in lessening the blow of not winning a championship in St. Louis during his stellar four-year career.

“It’s tough to lose here in St. Louis, especially being from here and not making the championship game two years in a row,” Hairston said. “But we’ve just got to keep our heads up and know that if we get to the NCAA Tournament that it will be four appearances in a row.”

Reporter Adam Soebbing can be reached at [email protected]