Tyrone Green may have had only four points his last game, but he epitomized the defense Southern Illinois has gained a national reputation for.
The 19th-ranked Salukis try to claim a spot in the championship game of the Anaheim Classic on Friday when they play Mississippi State.
Green had four of his team’s 11 steals as Southern Illinois (2-0) stifled Chattanooga 63-41 in its opening-round game Thursday. Fellow backcourt partner Bryan Mullins added three steals as the Salukis forced 26 turnovers and limited the Mocs to 29.7 percent shooting.
“Our style is going to grind you,” Mullins said. “In the second half, I think they got tired of us trapping them. That makes us feel better.”
Returning most of their key players from a team that reached the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament last season, the Salukis have been highly effective thus far on the defensive end. They have held opponents to 32.7 percent (32-for-98) shooting in their first two wins and 54.5 points per game, improving on their season average of 56.2 points from the 2006-07 season.
“That ain’t no joke out there,” Mocs coach John Shulman told the Salukis’ official Web site. “Their ‘D’ is as sound and as good as anybody’s in America.”
Randal Falker scored 21 points for Southern Illinois but did most of his damage from the foul line. A career 54 percent free throw shooter, Falker sank 11 of 14 as he kept attacking the basket after a sluggish first half.
“We wanted Randal to finish a little bit better, but when he goes to the free-throw line and does that, we’ll take it,” Salukis coach Chris Lowery said.
Charles Rhodes had 11 points and 11 rebounds as Mississippi State (3-1) advanced in the winner’s bracket with a 68-53 victory over UC Irvine on Thursday. Barry Stewart hit four 3-pointers and finished with 18 points as the Bulldogs placed four players in double figures.
Rhodes notched his seventh career double-double despite making just 3 of 14 shots. He entered the game shooting 57.9 percent (22-for-38).
While the Bulldogs did snap a 12-game losing streak against ranked opponents with an 83-70 victory over Vanderbilt on Feb. 21, they have not defeated a Top 25 team away from home since a 79-75 overtime victory at then-No. 25 South Carolina on Feb. 11, 2004.
Mississippi State has not defeated a ranked non-conference team since a 54-45 win over then-No. 5 Oklahoma on Dec. 28, 2002, in the Sugar Bowl Classic in New Orleans.
Jamont Gordon is averaging a team-high 17.3 points for Mississippi State, which also has shown its defensive prowess early. The Bulldogs are limiting opponents to 32.2 percent shooting and 63.0 points per game thus far.
Mississippi State holds a 2-1 lead in the all-time series, but the teams have not met since Southern Illinois posted a 76-64 victory in the semifinals of the 1992 San Juan Shootout.
The winner of this game will play either Miami of Ohio or Southern California in the championship game on Sunday. The losers will play for third place on Sunday.