Hokies' NCAA Tournament run ends with loss to SIU
By Jimmy Robertson
March 18, 2007

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Virginia Tech's NCAA Tournament run came to an end Sunday afternoon as Southern Illinois used a big run at the end of the first half to take the lead and never trailed again, knocking off the Hokies 63-48 in a second-round game played at Nationwide Arena.

The loss marked the end of an incredible season for the Hokies, who finished with a 22-12 overall mark. The Hokies, bidding to become the first Tech team since the 1966-67 team to advance to the Sweet 16, fell to 6-8 all time in the NCAA Tournament. Southern Illinois advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second time in the past six years and broke a school record for victories in a season, moving to 29-6 overall. The Salukis will travel to San Jose, Calif., for a Thursday night game versus the winner of the Kansas-Kentucky game played later Sunday evening.

"I'm really proud of our guys," Tech coach Seth Greenberg said of his group after the game. "When they arrived four years ago, there was no ownership, no culture and no passion for this program. The program was void of personality. Four years later, there is ownership. There is passion. There are expectations. They created that. They've set the standard for others to live up to, and the outcome of this game is not going to take away from how proud I am of them."

The Hokies looked to be in good shape toward making a Sweet 16 appearance midway through the first half. Tech took an 18-15 lead on a 3-pointer by Jamon Gordon with 5:50 left in the half, but Southern Illinois dominated the rest of the half. The Salukis, thanks to some sharp shooting by guard Jamaal Tatum, closed out the half with a 13-2 run to take a 28-20 lead at the break.

Tatum, a 6-foot-2 senior who was shooting 41 percent from behind the 3-point arc coming into this one, drilled three 3-pointers in that run. And the Salukis' defense held the Hokies at bay, as Tech made just one of its final eight shots in the half.

"With five minutes to go in the first half, we were up three and we had numerous scoring opportunities," Greenberg said. "We could have been up six or eight, especially early on. We got good looks. We just couldn't finish."

Tatum got the Salukis going in the second half, too. He opened the half with a 3-pointer that gave SIU an 11-point lead and the Hokies got no closer than seven the rest of the game. Tatum led the Salukis with a game-high 21 points, hitting 7-of-15 from the floor and 6-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Tech struggled to get anything going offensively against an SIU defense that ranked third in the nation in scoring defense (56.3 ppg). But the Hokies real problems came on the defensive end. Southern Illinois hit 12 3-pointers, getting the six from Tatum and four from guard Tony Young.

"We wanted to double [Randal] Falker and get the ball out of his hands," Greenberg said. "They did nice job of getting the ball out and making the extra pass. We contested a lot of those shots, though. I think two or three might have been uncontested.

"I don't think in their [SIU's] game plan that they wanted to take half their shots from the 3-point line. I don't think that's who they are. But they made shots. We felt it was important to dig balls out, but they made us pay and they also made a lot at the end of the shot clock. You have to give them credit."

Southern Illinois made just 19 shots in the game and shot 44.2 percent. But 12 of those 19 were 3-pointers. In contrast, the Hokies, coming off a 36 percent shooting effort against Illinois in the first round, shot just 41.3 against the Salukis.

Playing in his final collegiate game, Tech guard Jamon Gordon paced the Hokies with 16 points and eight rebounds, while junior Deron Washington added 15 and five rebounds. Seniors Zabian Dowdell and Coleman Collins finished with seven and four points, respectively, with Dowdell scoring just one point in the second half. Collins fouled out of his final game with 7:50 remaining.

"It's hard to believe this is the last time I'll put on that uniform," Gordon said. "And not having him [Dowdell] in the backcourt with me, it's just hard to believe. Sometimes, I used him as a crutch and just kept passing him the ball. But I guess it's time for me to be a man on my own. It's just hard to believe we're not going to be playing together any more."

"I tried not to get emotional out there [at the end of the game], but four years is a long time," Dowdell said. "We've done a lot together and it's been a great ride. We've improved a lot as people and also improved this program. It's hard to believe we're never going to put that jersey on again. But I think when we look back, we'll say we gave it all we had."