Southern Illinois starts slowly, but the Missouri Valley Conference co-champ rebounds to eliminate Georgia.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 18, 2002
CHICAGO -- Strike another blow for the mid-major conferences.
The Missouri Valley Conference, to be exact.
In front of a partisan crowd of 21,525 at the United Center, Missouri Valley regular-season co-champion Southern Illinois overcame a 19-point deficit to defeat Georgia 77-75 Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament East Region.
SIU became the second Missouri Valley team to knock off an SEC team in Chicago during the weekend. Creighton ended Florida's season in the first round Friday.
Southern Illinois (28-7) plays Connecticut on Friday in Syracuse, N.Y.
"I couldn't be prouder of our kids," Salukis coach Bruce Weber said, "to get down 19 and not hang our heads. A couple of timeouts we called, I saw in their eyes, they were kind of like deer in headlights.
"Things weren't going our way. They were kind of staring into space. I just said, 'Hey, we worked so hard, why would you quit now?' We talked about getting into single digits at halftime, but we made a big run on them."
A big run is an understatement.
The Bulldogs led 30-11 with 8:29 left in the first half then went in the tank.
Georgia finished the half by going 0-for-7 from the field and committing five turnovers.
"We might have got a little too relaxed, and we should have kept the pressure on and put them away," said Georgia guard Rashad Wright, who scored 16 points. "They made a great comeback. You have to give them credit."
In all, the Bulldogs went 12:15 without a field goal, making just eight free throws to lead only 38-35 lead at halftime.
During that stretch, Southern Illinois scored 32 points.
"I thought they played brilliantly and made some great, great shots," Georgia coach Jim Harrick said. "They got momentum in the last 10 minutes of the first half and never gave it up."
Southern Illinois carried that well into the second half, taking its biggest lead at 60-52 with 11:33 left. Georgia (22-10) pulled within 73-71 with 1:01 left, but a pivotal call sealed the victory for Southern Illinois. With 14.3 seconds left, Jonas Hayes was called for an intentional foul on Rolan Roberts, giving the Salukis two free throws and possession.
Roberts made one free throw, giving Southern Illinois a 74-71 lead.
"That was a huge call in the game," said Harrick, who was upset with the call.
Jermaine Dearman scored a career-high 25, including 14 of the Salukis' 16 during one stretch. The Salukis shot 50 percent from the field (including 7-for-13 on 3-pointers) and committed just six turnovers. Georgia's Jarvis Hayes scored a game-high 26 points and had 11 rebounds.
Georgia's loss was another blow to the SEC, which entered the tournament No. 1 in the nation in the RPI rankings and had six teams make the field. Only Kentucky reached the Sweet 16.
Four teams lost to lower seeds, three seeded 10th or lower and one No.8.
Southern Illinois players said Georgia's actions and pregame comments indicated it believed it was the superior team.
"I don't think those guys knew we could play with them," Roberts said.
"I knew they weren't going to respect us. I just wanted to beat them really bad. I'm so happy right now."