ST. LOUIS -- 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.
In Omaha, Neb., the Midwestern city best known for its beef, Creighton University has done what so many small colleges would like to do -- beef up its program so it can compete with any team in the country, writes Mark Schlabach. Story
None of the six championships have come with the Bluejays
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
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
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
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.