Friday , Mar , 16 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Crusaders take on Salukis in NCAA Tourney first round

Columbus, OH (Sports Network) – The Southern Illinois Salukis will make their
sixth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament when they collide with the
Holy Cross Crusaders in a first round matchup from Nationwide Arena.

The Crusaders are making their 12th appearance in the Big Dance, where the team
has accumulated a meager 7-11 ledger. In fact, the team has lost eight
consecutive tournament games and has not posted a victory in the Big Dance
since 1953. On the season, Holy Cross delivered a solid 25-8 record, which
included an impressive 13-1 mark in the Patriot League. The team started the
year with a mediocre 7-6 ledger, but eventually the Crusaders hit their stride,
winning 16 of their last 18 games, which included three wins in the PL

As for the Salukis, they are making their sixth straight appearance, but the
only difference this season is the team will be the fourth-seed, the highest
SIU has ever been in the Big Dance. SIU heads into this event with an
outstanding 27-7 ledger, and at one point during the season the Salukis
collected 13 consecutive wins. If the team is victorious tonight it will tie a
school record for most wins in a season. The Salukis captured the Missouri
Valley Conference regular-season title, but stumbled in the postseason
tournament, losing to Creighton, 67-61.

The winner of tonight’s contest will have the honor of facing either Virginia
Tech or Illinois in the second round. As for the all-time series between Holy
Cross and Southern Illinois, the two schools have never met on the hardwood.

It is easy to figure out why the Crusaders had so much success this year and
the reason was the team’s play at the defensive end of the court. Almost every
game this year the Crusaders put forth a tenacious defensive performance, and
the team heads into this game surrendering a mere 57.4 ppg, while limiting the
opposition to a 41.3 percent shooting effort from the floor. Holy Cross also
forced 16.9 turnovers per contest, while collecting an outstanding 9.5 steals
per matchup. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, the team does not have much of an
offensive punch to back up its strong defensive play. Holy Cross is producing
just 64.2 ppg on the year and is shooting a mediocre 43.8 percent from the
field. The team is currently outrebounding its opponent by a little over four
rpg, but at the same time the team has struggled with mistakes, committing 15.1
miscues per outing. Keith Simmons has been the team’s main option this year, as
the big man is leading the squad with 17.3 ppg and 5.8 rpg. Torey Thomas has
been the Crusaders’ best backcourt player, as the guard is averaging 13.6 ppg,
while leading the team with 157 assists and 92 steals. Tim Clifford rounds out
Holy Cross’ double-figure performers with 11.8 ppg.

The Crusaders might be a tough defensive team, but they are nothing compared to
SIU. The Salukis have been one of the top defensive teams in the nation
throughout the season and are currently third in the country in points allowed,
surrendering just 56.5 ppg. Out of the 33 games played by SIU this season, the
Salukis allowed below 65 points in 26 of those contests. Opponents are shooting
just 41.5 percent from the field against SIU this season and an even worse 35
percent from behind the arc. The Salukis have also forced an impressive 506
turnovers this year, while also collecting an equally solid 217 steals.
Offensively the team’s best option has been Jamaal Tatum, who was named MVC
Player of the Year. Tatum is currently leading SIU with 15 ppg and is shooting
an outstanding 41.6 percent from long range. Randal Falker has done a solid job
down low for SIU, as the big man is averaging 12.5 ppg, while also leading the
team with 7.5 rpg and 70 blocks. Matt Shaw is the only other player producing
over 10 ppg, as the guard is chipping in 11.4 points per contest.