Southern Illinois could be without its leading scorer as it tries to take sole possession of the Missouri Valley Conference lead when it hosts Creighton on Saturday.
The No. 21 Salukis (20-5, 11-3), ranked for the first time since March 2004, are tied with the Bluejays (17-7, 11-3) atop the conference standings and already won 58-57 at Creighton on Jan. 20 when Bryan Mullins made the game-winning layup with 4.1 seconds left.
That victory started the Salukis on their current six-game winning streak. They’ve also won eight of their last nine.
SIU is 11-0 at home and has won the last seven meetings with Creighton, but beating the Bluejays could be tougher this time.
Salukis senior guard Jamaal Tatum, who averages 14.0 points per game, suffered a deep thigh bruise earlier this week during practice and was limited to six minutes and three points in Wednesday’s 60-50 win over Bradley.
“We hope he’s fine,” SIU coach Chris Lowery said. “If not, we’ve just got to play the game.”
Tatum had just five points against Creighton last month, but was averaging 18.3 in his previous three games before Wednesday.
Tony Young, a guard who averages 9.7 points, stepped up in Tatum’s absence to score a season-high 25 against Bradley.
“Tony was very aggressive,” Lowery told the school’s official Web site. “He’s a senior. He knows Jamaal was out, and somebody had to take over.”
Randal Falker, the reigning MVC player of the week, had 13 points and 12 rebounds. He had 21 points and was the only Saluki in double figures in the last meeting against Creighton.
SIU held Creighton to 36.6 percent shooting from the field - 12.5 percent from 3-point range - in January. The Salukis have been just as tough defensively as of late, with their opponents shooting less than 38 percent from the field and 27 percent from beyond the arc in each of the last three games.
Creighton started the season ranked 19th in the AP Poll, but spent only two weeks in the Top 25 as it opened 3-2. The Bluejays have played much better lately, though, having won a season-high five straight games including a 79-74 comeback win over Evansville on Wednesday.
Nick Porter and Nate Funk each had 19 points as Creighton overcame a 14-point halftime deficit with a 25-4 run.
“As disappointed as I was in our team in the first half, I was equally proud the second,” Creighton coach Dana Altman said. “They played awfully hard and fought themselves back in the game.”
Funk, the team’s leading scorer at 17.5 points, is averaging 20.2 in his last seven games.
Creighton has faced one Top 25 team this season, defeating then-No. 24 Xavier 73-67 on Dec. 9.