Salukis take Las Vegas Invitational Championship

By Gus Bode

Brooks named Tournament MVP

It was a fitting end to the Las Vegas Invitational.

When a Texas-El Paso free throw cut the Salukis’ lead to four with just under a minute left to play, it was Stetson Hairston who kept the Miners at bay.


Hairston, who was reinstated Nov. 23 after serving a three-game suspension, nailed six free throws in the final 46 seconds as SIU held on for the 68-62 victory and its first non-conference tournament title since 1991.

The senior guard led SIU with 16 points and was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 13.7 points, 3.3 assists and three rebounds over a three-game span.

“He just brings energy and leadership,” said Darren Brooks. “I’m glad to have him back.”

SIU (4-0) saw its 33-29 halftime lead get wiped out and fell behind 48-43 at the 11:02 mark. The Miners, though, spent the next eight and a half minutes without a single field goal and trailed the Salukis 59-55 with just over two minutes left to play.

From there the Salukis, who shot 88 percent from the charity stripe, knocked down seven free throws to shut the Miners out for good.

The Salukis converted 16 UTEP turnovers into 23 points, and held the Miners to 11 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Brooks was named MVP of the tournament after a 14 point, four assist, two block and three steal performance in the championship game. Brooks averaged 13.8 points, 4.3 steals and four assists in the tournament.


“We just wanted to come out and play hard and try to win the whole thing,” Brooks said. “That was our goal from day one.”

LaMar Owen followed up his 21 point, 10 rebound outing against Vanderbilt in the semi-finals with 11 points and seven boards. Owen joined Hairston on the all-tournament with an average of 13.3 points and six rebounds.

SIU crushed Augustana 83-59 and Tennessee State 83-60 before its semi-final match-up with Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt seemed to be SIU’s first real test of the season heading into the game, but wound up succumbing to the Salukis’ ball pressure and on-point shooting.

SIU shot 56 percent from the field, while holding Vanderbilt to 34 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent from three-point range. Vanderbilt came in connecting on more than half of its three-point field goals. SIU never trailed and was up by as much as 18 points in the second half.

Hairston followed Owen’s career scoring effort with 15 points and four assists. Brooks added 11 points, three assists and two steals. Jamaal Tatum put in nine points, four assists and three steals.

The Salukis front line held 7-foot-2 Vanderbilt center Dawid Przbyszewski scoreless with one rebound. Przbyszewski was averaging nearly 12 points and 10 rebounds a game. SIU outscored the Commodores 34-14 in the paint.

“It just gave us more confidence than we had,” Brooks said of the victory over the Southeastern Conference opponent. “It just let people know that we’re a very good team and we can play with the supposed better teams in the country.”

SIU doesn’t have much time to savor its tournament crown as a game at Hawaii Monday waits in the distance.

Hawaii (2-0) beat Mississippi Valley State Nov. 23 and Coastal Carolina Nov. 25. The Rainbows have four players averaging double figure points led by sophomore guard Matt Gibson, who is averaging 14.5 points a game. Chris Botes, a 7-foot, 220-pound center, is averaging a double-double with 13 points and 10.5 rebounds a game.

Hawaii will be SIU’s fourth opponent in the last seven days, but the Salukis won’t play again until Tuesday, Dec. 7.