March 2, 2012 1:02 pm ET by Donovan Potts
Game #8-668: Southern Illinois Salukis vs. Indiana State SycamoresMarch 1, 2012 7:05 pm
St. Louis, MO
I feel kind of bad that I don't have the time to write a proper obituary on that which was Southern Illinois' 2011-12 season. But maybe it's better that way. Maybe it's better to just get on about how it ended, and let it go for what it was.
I had decided early on the Salukis would be the team I would follow closest during the 800 Games Project. I had the history of cheering them on during the 90's, during the heyday of Floorburn U., when NCAA appearances where commonplace, and Sweet 16's were almost guaranteed. I had the connections through my friend Drew, the SIU alumnus who can cite opening lineups from years where I could remember at best two players. And while Southern Illinois wasn't the closest team to my home, the scheduling for their season worked out best. So, Thursday night's game at the opening round of the Missouri Valley Tournament worked out to be my seventh Saluki game of the season. It would also be the last.
Southern Illinois needed the win to avoid finishing with just eight for the season, something they had not done since 1986. Indiana State was trying to avoid the embarrassment of being a defending MVC Tournament champion who lost on the Thursday of the next year, a fate the Sycamores met when they lost to Bradley in the opening round of 2002. The Trees also inflicted this fate on Drake in 2009.
SIU jumped out to an early 5-2 lead, and hope abounded maybe Southern would pull off another Thursday win like they did last year against Illinois State. Texts coming from Drew were less than optimistic. I will never question his loyalty to Southern Illinois basketball; this was sheer frustration over four seasons of unmet expectations and dwindling success.
Certainly enough, though, Drew's predictions proved correct. The Salukis quickly fell behind as Jake Odum and Dwayne Lathan took over the Sycamore offense. The last time these two teams met, Indiana State converted all 12 of their superhoop attempts, setting a new NCAA record in the process. Tonight, however, the Sycamores scored just fine from inside the arc, and used the three sparingly.
But the Indiana State drives did lead to some turnovers, and those allowed the Salukis to stay in striking range for most of the game; they were down by just three at the under-12 timeout of the second half. Once again, a text from Drew: "They'll blow it."
Again, he was right.
Miles Walker sparked an 8-2 Trees spurt out of the media timeout, and the lead was back up to nine. The closest Southern would get would be five, but whatever fire the Salukis had left was quickly extinguished. Mamadou Seck, playing his last game in the Maroon, bent over at the waist with his hands on his thighs as the clock ticked away the last seconds of his career, the last few seconds of a season lost for Southern Illinois.
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