Wichita State, Howard shocked

By Gus Bode

Salukis clinch fourth MVC title at Shockers’ expense

One by one, LaMar Owen, Josh Warren, Stetson Hairston and Darren Brooks walked to center court where hugs from their parents and an arousing ovation from a sold-out SIU Arena awaited.

The emotional ceremony brought many of the 9,628 fans in attendance to their feet before the Salukis clinched their fourth straight Missouri Valley Conference regular season title – their third under three different coaches.

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It also left SIU in an offensive standstill in the early stages of its 65-55 victory Saturday.

SIU (24-6, 14-3) missed its first six shots, remained scoreless three minutes, 51 seconds into the game and watched Wichita State (19-7, 12-5) jump out to a 5-0 lead.

“We couldn’t score a basket,” Hairston said. “We finally got on the board, and then we started hitting shots from there”

To say the least.

A pair of free throws from Matt Shaw put SIU on the board, Tony Young tied the game on one of his two first half treys and another three-pointer from Brooks gave SIU its first lead, 10-8.

Young’s second three-pointer, a Jamaal Tatum jumper and a free throw from Brooks capped a 16-3 SIU run.

It wouldn’t be the last.

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Once again a pair of free throws, this time from Tatum, got the Salukis going. Brooks and Tatum nailed back-to-back jump shots, Hairston knocked down a three-pointer and Brooks converted a three-point play before Randy Burns’ jumper with 3:58 left ended the 12-0 run.

“We didn’t want to come down to a last-second shot again,” said SIU head coach Chris Lowery of the Salukis’ two-point loss Jan. 22 at Wichita State. “We wanted to get away from them.”

Wichita State shot 57.1 percent from the field in the first half but committed nine of its 11 first-half turnovers during the Salukis’ runs. The Shockers shot a horrid 4-for-11 from the free-throw line in the game.

SIU led by as much as 16 in the first half but went into the locker room up 40-27 after Kyle Wilson’s three-pointer.

Wilson led the Shockers with 13 points off the bench.

Brooks, Hairston and Tatum were the main weapons in keeping Wichita State at bay as the trio combined to score 43 of the Salukis’ 65 points.

“I just wanted to leave everything on the court and just have no regrets,” Brooks said.

Brooks finished with a game-high 17 points with five rebounds and three assists, while Tatum scored 16 to go along with five rebounds of his own. Hairston added 10 points.

Shocker forward Jamar Howard, who exchanged words with Brooks in their first meeting this season, was a force for the Shockers in the first half, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds, but did little in the second half.

“He said a little something during the game, but it wasn’t anything,” Brooks said. “They were down by like 15. I was like, ‘Man, look at the score.’ That was the end of it.”

Brooks scored more points in the first half (14) than Howard tallied the entire game (11).

“I didn’t see him after the game,” Brooks said. “I guess he ran to the locker room, but it doesn’t matter to me. I’ve got four rings.

Wichita State trimmed the Saluki lead to 61-54 in the second half and squandered a chance to pull within five points when both Howard and Paul Miller missed point-blank shot attempts.

That was as close as Wichita State would get.

“We just went out there and took care of business,” said Warren, who finished with four points, three rebounds and a steal. “I feel like we are the best team in the conference, and we proved it by winning it again this year.”

Brooks, Hairston, Warren and Owen were on the court together late in the game and subbed out together with less than a minute to the last standing ovation they’ll hear from the SIU Arena as Salukis.

“We’re the four seniors and the four leaders,” Owen said. “You see at the end, [Lowery] took us out and put in the young guys. That’s the future right there of SIU.

“We led them to the victory, and they are going to step up and finish it off hopefully for the next however many years.”

SIU at Indiana State at 6:05 tonight

SIU is at Indiana State (10-18, 5-12) tonight in its season finale. The Salukis defeated the Sycamores 64-53 Feb. 9 at the SIU Arena.

Indiana State has lost its last two games at Drake and Creighton. The Sycamores have also lost their last seven games to SIU, including four straight at the Hulman Center.

A win tonight would give the Salukis 25 regular season victories – something no other Saluki team has ever accomplished.

“We just have to continue to win games,” Lowery said. “There’s games out there left for us to win, and that’s what I want them to focus on.”

Reporter Drew Stevens can be reached at [email protected]

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