No. 15 S. Illinois 93, Evansville 67
ST. LOUIS (AP)—Effortlessly, No. 15 Southern Illinois shook off the loss that cost the school a perfect conference record.
Darren Brooks gave the Salukis a fast start with eight points in the first 3 1/2 minutes and finished with 18 points in a 93-67 victory over Evansville Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
“We definitely wanted to come out and make a statement,” Brooks said. “We wanted to shake people up and let them know 17-1 isn’t bad. We just wanted to let you know we’re still real good.”
The Salukis (25-3) have the top seed in the tournament for the third straight year after going 17-1 in conference play, but are seeking their first conference tournament championship in nine seasons. Ninth-seeded Evansville (7-22) didn’t provide much of a challenge, falling behind 19-6 after five minutes, by 12 at the half and by as many as 34 points the rest of the way.
“That was the team I’ve been watching all season,” Southern Illinois’ first-year coach Matt Painter said. “Not the team we saw play on Monday.”
Brooks was 3-for-4 from 3-point range for Southern Illinois, which lost by 16 points in the regular-season finale at Northern Iowa on Monday and missed out on a perfect 18-0 Valley record. Reserve LaMar Owen had 18 points and nine rebounds, Sylvester Willis had 11 points and nine rebounds and Brad Korn had 10 points and six rebounds for the Salukis, who have won 17 of 18.
“We usually play with this type of intensity,” Brooks said. “Last time we didn’t but it was just one bad game.
“We bounced back and came out with that fire that we usually play with.”
Southern Illinois beat Evansville for the third time, also winning by 15 and 18 points earlier in the season. The Salukis’ point total was the highest in 14 years since the tournament moved to a neutral site in St. Louis.
“It doesn’t really matter who we play,” Painter said. “If we play hard and battle, I think we’re pretty tough to handle.”
Bradley Strickland had 12 points and eight rebounds for Evansville, which lost six of eight to finish the season. Clint Cuffle had 13 points and Andre Burton added 10 points and seven rebounds.
“We had opportunities in the first half, but we missed too many shots,” coach Steve Merfeld said. “We didn’t take advantage and you can’t do that against a team like SIU. They’re too good.”
Evansville won a lead-in game, beating Indiana State 63-59 Friday night, to advance to the quarterfinals. That ended a five-game losing streak in the tournament for the Evansville.
“It was great for us to get a Valley tourney win,” said Cuffle, a senior. “It was my first one here.”
Southern Illinois went nearly nine minutes between baskets in the first half, but the fast start made up for it. Brooks’ early scoring helped the Salukis grab a 13-3 lead.
A 10-0 Evansville run shaved the deficit to only five and Southern Illinois led comfortably 37-25 at the break despite 34.4- percent shooting. Evansville was worse at 8-for-29 (27.6 percent).