Creighton 67, No. 11 Southern Illinois 61
ST. LOUIS (AP)—Creighton knows how to ramp it up in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Anthony Tolliver had 15 points and 13 rebounds to help Creighton upset No. 11 Southern Illinois 67-61 Sunday in the conference championship, earning the Bluejays their sixth title in nine years.
None of the six championships have come with the Blue Jays playing as the top seed.
“I used to say it was just our depth because we used to play 10 or 11 guys,” said coach Dana Altman, whose team earned its seventh NCAA tournament appearance over that span. “But this year that wasn’t the reason.
“We had three great seniors that really just took the tournament over.”
Nate Funk added 19 points and four assists and Nick Porter had 15 points and six assists for second-seeded Creighton (22-10). Funk, who scored a season-high 33 points in the semifinals against Missouri State, was named tournament MVP and was joined on the five-man all-tournament team by fellow seniors Tolliver and Porter.
All three have overcome major injuries, and Altman said, “That adds a little bit when you can finish it like that.”
Jamaal Tatum had 21 points for Southern Illinois (27-6), which has won the regular-season title five times in the last six seasons but has won the tournament only once during that span. The loss ended a 13-game winning streak for the Salukis, who landed Tatum and Matt Shaw, who had 11 points, on the all-tournament team.
“If we don’t really take care of our defense, we’re just an average team,” guard Bryan Mullins said.
The Valley’s regular-season champion hasn’t won the conference tournament since 1998.
Creighton lost twice to Southern Illinois by a total of five points during the regular season. Sunday’s victory ended an eight-game losing streak against the Salukis dating to the 2003 Valley championship game.
“The last time we beat them was on this court four years ago,” Funk said. “It feels great. We played together and we played hard.”
Despite the loss Southern Illinois could get a second or third seed in the NCAA tournament, considering the school’s No. 4 RPI rating and its ranking. The Valley hasn’t had a top-five seed since Tulsa was a fourth seed in 1984.
“I don’t care about that,” coach Chris Lowery said. “I’m more interested in trying to console our kids. We have to make sure that our psyche is in the right frame of mind.”
Altman wasn’t worried about where Creighton figured in the equation, either, although he assumed the Bluejays were in even before the championship game.
“People a lot smarter than me will make that decision,” Altman said. “We’ll just wait and see and get ourselves ready.
“It really doesn’t matter where you’re seeded, it’s who you’re matched up against.”
Tolliver earned his first double-double in 10 games and sixth of the season, taking advantage of a poor game by Southern Illinois’ Randal Falker. Tolliver personally outscored Southern Illinois 8-2 during a 3-minute span to put the Bluejays ahead 47-34 with 11:22 to go.
Falker, who averages 12.8 points, scored only three on 1-for-5 shooting. He missed everything on one free-throw attempt, then barely made it to the rim on two misses with 2:36 to go and a chance to narrow the gap to six. He fouled out with 2:19 left.
“Nothing went in, nothing worked,” Falker said. “Just overall a bad game.”
Southern Illinois cut the gap to five on Tatum’s basket in the lane with 49 seconds to go, but Creighton went 3-for-4 from the line the rest of the way.
Creighton led 32-28 at halftime and seized control in the opening 1:39 after the break, converting two turnovers into five points while taking a 39-29 lead. Porter hit a pair of layups during the early flurry, one on a fast break and another off a steal, and Dane Watts’ layup off another turnover resulted in a three-point play and the largest lead of the game to that point.