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Salukis Scamper Into Second Round

Southern Illinois Tops St. Mary's; Next Up Is Oklahoma State

By Thayer Evans
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, March 19, 2005; Page D11

OKLAHOMA CITY, March 18 -- At 32, Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery is the youngest coach in this year's NCAA tournament. A former point guard for the Salukis from 1990 to '94, the first-year coach easily can be mistaken for one of his players.

"People will say, 'Man, who is that?' " Salukis sophomore guard Jamaal Tatum said. "And I'll say, 'Our coach.' They're usually like, 'I thought you had to be old to be a coach.' "

Saint Mary's E.J. Rowland, No. 2, is covered by Southern Illinois' Jamaal Tatum in the first half Friday. (Ronald Martinez - Getty Images)

After yesterday's 65-56 victory over No. 10 seed Saint Mary's (Calif.) during the first round of the Chicago Region at the NCAA tournament at Ford Center, Lowery might just feel a little bit older. He watched his seventh-seeded team squander a 15-point first half lead before finally pulling away with a 10-2 run in the game's final minutes.

The win helped erase the sting of consecutive one-point losses for Southern Illinois in the tournament.

"Our kids were afraid to lose," said Lowery, who came to Southern Illinois from Illinois, where he was an assistant under former Salukis coach Bruce Weber. "That's where we wanted them to be. We want them to have confidence, not arrogance."

Senior guard Stetson Hairston led Southern Illinois (27-7) with 13 points; freshman forward Matt Shaw added 12 points.

The Salukis will next play Sunday against No. 2 seed Oklahoma State, which downed scrappy No. 15 seed Southeastern Louisiana, 63-50.

"We're just trying to put the mid-majors on the map," Southern Illinois senior forward LaMar Owen said. "Hopefully, we can show that we can play with the big schools like Duke and Kentucky."

The Gaels (25-9), making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1997, briefly led 4-2 before giving up 14 straight points.

During that Salukis' spurt, Saint Mary's turned over the ball eight times, including five straight possessions.

The Gaels, who finished with 20 turnovers, didn't reach double figures until the eight-minute mark of the first half on a layup by senior guard Paul Marigney.

Southern Illinois "is aggressive," Saint Mary's Coach Randy Bennett said. "That's what they teach defensively. They're going to play that ball hard, and if you turn it over on them early, they're going to jump out on you like they did."

But Saint Mary's rallied in the second half, tying the score at 47 with 6 minutes 33 seconds to play behind a 17-5 run.

The spurt was keyed by sophomore reserve Brett Collins, who scored 11 points during it.

On the ensuing possession, however, Hairston was fouled on a three-point attempt, and he hit all three free throws, starting Southern Illinois' game-breaking 10-2 run.

"That killed us," said Saint Mary's junior forward Daniel Kickert, who led the Gaels with 16 points. "They made shots when they needed to. We didn't."

OKLAHOMA ST. 63, SE LOUISIANA 50: Holding just a three-point lead with 7:05 left in the game, the Cowboys used a 19-9 surge to stave off the Southland Conference champions in a game that featured 23 steals.

Senior forward Ivan McFarlin had 18 points and nine rebounds for Oklahoma State (25-6), which was playing in front of an estimated 16,000 Cowboys faithful, just an hour south of their Stillwater, Okla., campus.

"The crowd helped us win today," Oklahoma State Coach Eddie Sutton said. "I've never, in the 26 [NCAA tournaments] I've participated in, seen a crowd like that one today."

Ricky Woods scored a team-high 16 points for Southeastern Louisiana (24-9), which was making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament.

The Lions held Cowboys senior forward Joey Graham to seven points, 11.1 below his season average, on four shots.

He played only 18 minutes, battling foul trouble most of the game.

"I've never seen Joey play as poorly as he did today," Sutton said. "Sometimes he can just disappear on you."

The win gave Sutton his 780th victory, 350 of which have come at Oklahoma State, moving him past Lou Henson on the career list.

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