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Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs SIU (03/04/07)

Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs SIU (03/04/07)

When Creighton and Southern Illinois met in the 2007 MVC Championship Game, it had been four years since the Jays had beaten the Salukis — eight straight losses, many of them decided in the final minute, all of them gut-wrenching. Seniors Anthony Tolliver and Nick Porter had never walked off the floor victorious against the Salukis, while fifth-year senior Nate Funk had only triumphed over them during his freshman campaign when he was a role player, instead of the star he’d become.

“They’ve done a good job,” Dana Altman told the Omaha World-Herald the day before the game. “We’ve had some battles with them, been close. I don’t think we’ve slipped so much as we just haven’t been able to finish. That’s what I told our team today. The difference in our two games with them (this year) was one possession each game. Let’s do what we can to make that one possession in our favor this time. Let’s finish.”

The Jays not only finished, they started off strong and led nearly wire-to-wire. Armed with a game plan that caught SIU completely off-guard — instead of running their usual sets, they schemed to drive to the basket as much as possible and force SIU’s notoriously rough-and-tumble defenders to either foul them or give up a good shot. Sure, they attempted, and made, their share of jump shots, but there were few possessions where the Jays ran their normal offense, and SIU wasn’t quite sure what to do about it until it was too late.

“Give them credit,” Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery noted after the game. “They didn’t run their stuff. They just drove to the basket. They drove to get fouled, not to score.”

They took 28 free throws, making 21, and attempted only 7 three-pointers — one of just three times all season that they attempted fewer than ten. And the three seniors methodically dissected SIU in their own way — Funk on a dazzling array of mid-range jumpers that had CBS’ Gus Johnson gushing, Porter on a series of freight-train drives to the rim where he dared defenders to stop him from getting a shot off (and going 9-12 at the line as a result), and Tolliver everywhere else to the tune of 15 points and 13 rebounds.

In one 60-second sequence at the beginning of the second half, the Jays scored three straight buckets thanks to two consecutive steals as their defensive pressure bothered the normally-composed Salukis. That run ballooned a 32-28 halftime lead into a 39-29 edge not even two minutes into the half, and the outcome was never really in doubt again.

It was the Jays’ sixth MVC Tourney Title in nine years, and all of the highlights are below in this week’s Bluejay Rewind.

[Box Score]

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