Tuesday, March 11, 2003

No. 19 Creighton 80, S. Illinois 56

By R.B. Fallstrom
The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS - After surviving a pair of close games, Creighton won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament with ease.

The Bluejays got 20 points from Larry House and took advantage of horrendous first-half shooting by top-seeded Southern Illinois to romp in the championship game with an 80-56 victory on Monday night.

"Tonight, we proved who is the best in the Valley," House said. "It was no letup for us, from start to finish."

The 19th-ranked Bluejays (29-4) were the second seed in the tournament after losing 70-62 March 1 at Southern Illinois (24-6), the regular-season champion the last two years. Creighton struggled in its first two tournament games, a pair of one-point victories over Indiana State and Wichita State, but put it all together to win the tournament championship for the fourth time in five seasons.

"We didn't play well the first two games, and we wanted to make a statement," forward Michael Lindeman said. "We knew we could play better."

Meanwhile, it all fell apart for Southern Illinois. The Salukis missed 17 of their first 18 shots, hitting just 15.6 percent in the first half and fell behind by 26 points. Creighton had leads of 10-0, 22-4 and 42-14 in the half and was ahead by as many as 33 points at 57-24 in the second half.

"I used every emotion I had," Southern Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "I laughed at them, I yelled at them at times. No matter what I tried, nothing worked."

Despite the lopsided finale, both teams likely are headed to the NCAA tournament. Creighton gets the conference's automatic bid for its fifth straight trip, and Southern Illinois was ranked 37th in the RPI.

"It's out of our hands now," Southern Illinois forward Jermaine Dearman said. "The only sure way to get in was to win this tournament and we didn't do that. There's nothing we can do now."

The Salukis scored fewer than 20 points in the first half for only the second time all season. The other time was also at the Savvis Center, when they had 13 at halftime of a 70-61 loss to Saint Louis on Dec. 28. Their worst loss previously was by 13 points at Charlotte on Dec. 18.

Kent Williams, who leads Southern Illinois with 15-point average, was 1-for-7 in the half and finished with 13 points on 3-for-11 shooting. Dearman, who had 43 points in the first two tournament games, had only four at the half and finished 5-for-13 with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Darren Brooks was 6-for-7 in the second half and had 15 points, but missed all four shots in the first half.

Creighton didn't need a big game from Kyle Korver, the conference player of the year and tournament MVP each of the last two years. Korver was content to distribute the ball in the first half with four points on 1-for-3 shooting. He finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals.

"We are not a one-man team," Korver said. "Look at what I did in the first half. The big guys really stepped up for us in this game."

Creighton also beat Southern Illinois in the tournament final last season, 84-76, in a much more competitive game.

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