Bracket Buster:Salukis vs. Kent State

By Gus Bode

Nationally televised game set for Feb. 19

The Salukis knew they would have to take their ESPN Bracket Buster success on the road, they just didn’t know where – until Monday.

SIU (16-5, 7-2 Missouri Valley) will play in front of a national television audience at Kent State (13-7, 5-4 Mid-American) Feb. 19, in the first-ever meeting between the two teams.

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“It’s great to even be able to be involved in the Bracket Buster,” said SIU head coach Chris Lowery. “It’s huge for recruiting, and obviously, it’s huge for all the [NCAA Tournament] voters to be able to see us on national TV two weeks before the selection process begins.”

With an RPI of 16, according to CollegeRPI.com, SIU is the highest rated team in the one-day tournament.

Kent State has an RPI of 39 and is 8-0 at home this season. The Golden Eagles are 1-1 in Bracket Buster games, with a win against Creighton and a loss to Hawaii. They advanced to the Elite Eight of the 2002 NCAA Tournament.

The only details still in question are the time of the game and the television distribution, which will be announced Feb. 8.

MVC foes Illinois State, Wichita State and Northern Iowa are also featured in the network’s 11-game telecast schedule. Illinois State is at Wisconsin-Green Bay, Northern Iowa hosts Western Michigan and Wichita State plays at Miami (Ohio).

SIU is 2-0 in Bracket Buster competition with home wins against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2003 and Hawaii last year.

“If you win, it helps you,” Lowery said. “We’ve been very fortunate. It helps you because it is national notoriety. It helps in the postseason period.”

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Closed practice sparks Evansville victory

For a practice that was closed to the media and all other would-be spectators, it sure got its share of attention.

A day after suffering a crushing 15-point loss at Southwest Missouri State, the Salukis went back to work, behind closed doors, for what Darren Brooks called the most physical practice of the year.

“Everything was just pushing and grabbing, and just bumping,” Brooks said. “It was like a wrestling practice or something.”

Lowery wanted to send a message to his team that it would have to play a lot tougher, particularly in the paint, to be successful.

SIU led the entire game, was up by as many as 27 points and after 14 minutes into the first half, never let its lead fall below double digits.

As for the production in the paint, the Salukis are still having their troubles.

Josh Warren, Matt Shaw, Randal Falker, LaMar Owen and Jamaal Foster combined for 29 points and 16 rebounds. Evansville’s Bradley Strickland and Matt Webster scored 23 points with 15 rebounds.

After the game, though, both Lowery and Stetson Hairston expressed the significance of Thursday’s practice in the win.

“We had a tough practice two days ago. It was closed doors, and it was tough,” Hairston said. “It was real tough. He got his point across, and we definitely came out here and took care of business.”

Jamaal Tatum has been on fire for the better part of the season, especially the last three games.

The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard is averaging 18.3 points in the three-game span and scored back-to-back career highs with 21 points at Wichita State and 24 points at SMS. Tatum also made 12-of-24 three-point attempts during that time.

Reporter Drew Stevens can be reached at [email protected]

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