No. 11 S. Illinois 53, Bradley 51
ST. LOUIS (AP)—In a game characterized by stingy defense, Matt Shaw’s game-winning basket was ridiculously easy.
Left alone in the lane after Jamaal Tatum missed a layup in heavy traffic, Shaw tipped in the winner with 3.2 seconds to go and No. 11 Southern Ilinois beat Bradley 53-51 in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on Saturday.
“We were just going to let J.T. make a play,” Shaw said. “Everybody knew he was going to take the shot. Everybody collapsed on him and my guy left.”
Tatum had 20 points and was 4-for-5 from 3-point range for the Salukis (27-5), who have won 13 straight. Southern Illinois will play second-seeded Creighton in the final with a chance to become the first Missouri Valley regular-season champion since Illinois State in 1998 to also win the conference tournament.
The Salukis, the first top seed to make it to the final since 2003, beat Creighton (21-10) twice by a total of five points in the regular season. They’ve beaten the Bluejays eight straight times since losing to them in the 2003 championship game.
“We came close this year but didn’t get it done,” Creighton coach Dana Altman said. “There are no secrets. It’s not like we haven’t seen them before.”
Creighton has nine straight 20-win seasons and has won the conference tournament five of the past eight seasons. The Bluejays beat Missouri State 75-58 in the semifinals behind Nate Funk’s season-high 33 points.
“He was really on fire tonight,” teammate Dane Watts said. “He carried the load offensively.”
Southern Illinois will be tested entering the final, given that six games during the winning streak were decided by four or fewer points. The Salukis reached the final despite 34.6 percent shooting, rallying from an eight-point deficit in the second half by holding Bradley (21-12) to 35.6 percent from the field.
“Our motto is ‘Anything to win’,” guard Bryan Mullins said. “And that’s what we had to do.”
Southern Illinois has won the regular-season title five of the past six years, and won the conference tournament last March as the No. 2 seed. Shaw gave the Salukis a chance to win both this time.
Jeremy Crouch had 14 points, hitting 4 of 5 shots from 3-point range for fourth-seeded Bradley. The Braves, one of a handful of Missouri Valley teams with NCAA tournament aspirations, beat Northern Iowa in the quarterfinals on Will Franklin’s 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left.
The Missouri Valley sent four teams to the NCAA tournament for the first time last March, with Bradley and Wichita State advancing to the final 16. Bradley coach Jim Les said the Missouri Valley deserves four bids again.
“This league is a major basketball league,” Les said. “We proved it last year.”
Daniel Ruffin added 12 points for the Braves, while Franklin was held to five points on 1-for-9 shooting. Ruffin’s long 3-point attempt from just across the center line bounced off the top of the backboard at the buzzer.
“It was a lot of emotion out there,” Ruffin said. “Everybody was leaving it out there on the floor.”
Shaw added 11 points for Southern Illinois, which split a pair of regular-season meetings with Bradley.
Bradley led by as many as eight points in the second half, pulling away from a tie at the break.
The Braves, the nation’s top 3-point shooting team at 42 percent, were 6-for-12 during one stretch before missing four of their last five attempts. Southern Illinois trailed 39-31 with 14:37 to go, but rallied to tie it at 42 with about 7 1/2 minutes left.
Bradley missed a chance to take a one-point lead with 25 seconds to go when reserve Danny Adams, a 46-percent free-throw shooter, missed a pair of free throws. Randal Falker made one of two foul shots with 23.9 seconds to go to put Southern Illinois ahead 51-49. Zach Andrews’ layup tied it with 16 seconds to go.
The semifinals drew the first sellout in Missouri Valley tournament history and paid attendance of 22,612 also was a record for the Scottrade Center, reflecting the growth of the mid-major conference which was ranked sixth in the latest RPI.
Southern Illinois missed its first eight shots and had two turnovers, one on a five-second inbounds call, before reserve Tyrone Green made a fast-break layup and then completed a 3-point play with 13:47 to go in the half. Strong defense kept it from being much of a hole and the teams went to the break tied at 26.