No. 11 S. Illinois 71, Drake 59
ST. LOUIS (AP)—Rather than worry about the NCAA selection process, Southern Illinois is sticking to what it can control.
Jamaal Tatum and Matt Shaw had 19 points apiece and the No. 11 Salukis won their 12th in a row, 71-59 over Drake in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on Friday. That gives them another chance to build their resume.
“We’re talking about who we’re playing tomorrow,” coach Chris Lowery said. “We have to focus and not allow ourselves to panic.
“Once you do that, you start tightening up worrying about where you’re going to be seeded instead of winning the game.”
Shaw was 10-for-11 from the line and Tony Young had 17 points and four assists for the top-seeded Salukis, who beat Drake (17-15) for the third time this season and the 17th straight time in the series. The Bulldogs committed a season-high 22 turnovers.
“They don’t stop coming at you, they’re always there,” Drake’s Klayton Korver said. “You might get an open shot but you’re so used to having a guy right there that at times you rush it a little bit.”
Southern Illinois (26-5) will play the winner of the Bradley-Northern Iowa game in the semifinals on Saturday. They split regular-season meetings with both teams.
The Salukis are fifth in the latest RPI rankings, leading to speculation about a possible No. 2 NCAA seed. Drake coach Tom Davis doubted it would be that high because of the conference’s lower profile.
“I don’t think there’s any question, you can sense the media’s skepticism of leagues like the Valley,” Davis said. “So you’re going to sense that same thing when you’re talking about the seeding.
“I don’t think they should even worry about it, to be honest.”
Korver had 14 points and Ajay Calvin 12 for Drake, which wrapped up its first winning season in 20 years.
Southern Illinois led by as much as 17 points in the second half against a team it beat by five points on the road and 10 at home. Drake narrowed the gap to nine with 3:29 remaining after five straight points from Korver, and to eight with 1:05 left, but the Salukis held on, going 17-for-21 from the free-throw line in the final 5 1/2 minutes.
Lowery didn’t want his players getting comfortable, criticizing them for attempting 13 3-pointers in the first half. Southern Illinois finished 5-for-16.
“Coach really harped on that on one timeout he called,” Tatum said.
Drake was held to 40 percent shooting a day after beating Evansville 101-96 in overtime in a play-in game on Thursday night. Josh Young, who had 23 points on Thursday, was held to nine on 2-for-9 shooting.
“It’s hard to adjust,” Calvin said. “You want to get there and go, but Southern’s defense is so good you just can’t.”
Tatum, the Valley player of the year, had two of Southern Illinois’ five 3-pointers while directing the team’s high-tempo offense. He also led the team with six assists, and had four rebounds.
A pair of streaks at the start and finish of the first half helped Southern Illinois survive a lull in the middle.
The Salukis hit six of their first eight shots to take a 14-4 lead, holding Drake to a 1-for-7 start with four turnovers. Drake narrowed the gap to a point with a 9-0 run while Southern Illinois missed 10 straight shots with mostly reserves on the floor, before the starters restored control for a 30-19 lead at the break.
“We wanted to push and we understood they played the night before,” Lowery said. “If I held my subs a little bit longer and left my starters in, we might of gotten away from them.
“But we need to rest our guys, too.”