Monday, March 19, 2007

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There would be no repeat miracle for Virginia Tech.

Southern Illinois made sure of that.

The Salukis used an incredible shooting display from long distance while shutting down the Hokies 63-48 in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Nationwide Arena.

Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Jamaal Tatum had 21 points after making six of nine 3-pointers as Southern Illinois made a season-high 12 3s out of 21 attempts (57.1 percent) to end the Hokies’ season.

“It kind of kills you,” said Virginia Tech guard Jamon Gordon, a senior who finished with team highs of 16 points and eight rebounds. “You play hard defense for 35 seconds, and it gets kind of hard.”

Virginia Tech could not respond against the Salukis’ vaunted defense, which allows 56.1 points a game. Southern Illinois made it a halfcourt game to slow the Hokies’ transition offense, and the Hokies did not respond well. They made just two of 13 3-pointers and scored a season-low 48 points.

“You make shots, you win,” Hokies coach Seth Greenberg said. “You don’t make shots, you don’t win.”

Virginia Tech hoped to overcome its troubles with another incredible rally like it did against Illinois on Friday, when it scored the game’s final 12 points for a 54-52 first-round win. But unlike the Fighting Illini, the team from across the state in Carbondale had guards who handled the press and avoided any late-game drama.

Southern Illinois, seeded fourth in the West Region, will face top-seeded Kansas in a region semifinal Thursday in San Jose Calif. The mid-major Salukis, in their sixth consecutive NCAA tournament, are making their third Sweet 16 appearance and first since 2002.

The Hokies were seeded fifth in their first NCAA tournament since 1996. Virginia Tech finished with a 22-12 record in its renaissance season.

“We fought four years to see what this tournament was about,” said Zabian Dowdell, the Hokies’ All-ACC guard who was holding back tears after closing his career with seven points on 3-for-9 shooting after averaging 17.7 points a game. “Even if we didn’t do as well as we would have like, it was a big accomplishment.”

Deron Washington had 15 points for the Hokies.

Tony Young had 17 points and four 3-pointers for Southern Illinois, while teammate Randal Falker was a menace all game. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound junior had 10 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, three steals and three assists. The Salukis did an excellent job working the ball inside and out while finding the open shooter.

“We were able to knock down shots and really did a good job moving the ball around and finding the open guy. And a lot of credit goes to Randal too because he was getting double- and triple-teamed,” said Salukis guard Bryan Mullins, who had 11 points. “Everyone knows us for our defense, and we play so hard on defense that people don’t know we can score.”

Southern Illinois came into the tournament third in the nation in defense, allowing 56.5 points. The Hokies were affected by the physical, help-style man-to-man defense that cuts off passing lanes and seemed to lose confidence in their shots. Virginia Tech forward A.D. Vassallo, who came in averaging 11.7 points, had two points and missed all six of his 3-point attempts.

After Gordon’s 3-pointer gave the Hokies an 18-15 lead with 5:53 left in the first half, the Salukis took command. Southern Illinois used a 13-2 run — the last nine of which came on 3-pointers by Tatum — to take a 28-20 lead into halftime. The 6-foot-2 junior also opened the second half with a 3 to extend the Salukis’ lead to 31-20.

The Hokies never seriously threatened after that. Virginia Tech pulled within seven at 33-26, but Mullins answered with a 3-pointer. Southern Illinois used a six-point run to take a 47-32 lead with 8:22 left after Mullins made two free throws.

The game seemed to have inconsistent officiating, which had an impact on Hokies senior center Coleman Collins, who fouled out of his final game after tallying four points and three rebounds in 15 minutes.

“The two halves had two different personalities,” Greenberg said. “The first half it was Kung Fu fighting. The second half you couldn’t breathe on a guy. That’s how it goes.”

The halves did have some things in common: Southern Illinois was patient in working the clock and making 3-pointers while Virginia Tech never found any offensive rhythm against the small-but-savvy Salukis.

“They knocked down everything they put up,” Washington said. “We couldn’t get anything going offensively. Their defense slowed us down. We couldn’t get any of our shots to fall.”

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