CARBONDALE — On the way to a Missouri Valley Conference tournament record that still stands, the SIU men’s basketball team finally broke through to the Big Dance under coach Rich Herrin in the early 1990s.
After reaching the NIT four straight years, the Salukis reached the NCAAs in 1993 after the first of three straight Valley tournament titles. SIU beat Illinois State to win the 1993 event, Northern Iowa by three to win the 1994 tournament and Tulsa by 15 in 1995. No one else in league history has ever won three straight Valley tournament titles.
Behind Ashraf Amaya, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward who was named to the all-conference first team for the third straight year, SIU’s 1992-93 squad finished with its third 20-win seasons in its last four at 23-10. The Salukis lost 105-70 to Duke to end it, suffering their biggest NCAA tournament loss ever, but went on to win 46 games the next two seasons.
Amaya, a two-time MVC defensive player of the year who was named one of the league’s 50 greatest players in 2006-07, led the Salukis with 545 points (16.5 per game) and 354 rebounds (10.7 per game) as a senior in 1993. Only Kent Williams (1,154 career points) scored more in MVC games than Amaya, who had 991 points in 65 games and grabbed more rebounds in league play than any Saluki in history (587).
Amaya went on to play two seasons in the NBA, first with the inaugural Vancouver Grizzlies franchise in 1995-96 and then with Washington. He scored 379 points and grabbed 355 rebounds in 85 games. Amaya, who was signed by the Grizzlies as a free agent after playing in the CBA and overseas after college, started 34 games his rookie year. He later played another stint in the CBA, won a bronze medal with Team USA at the 1998 FIBA World Championships and the Saporta Cup, a European league championship, in 2001 with Maroussi (Athens, Greece).
Amaya is one of three Hall of Famers among the five early 1990s nominees for the SIU All-Century team. Guard Chris Carr and power forward Marcus Timmons are the others.
Carr, a 6-6, 220-pound guard from Pilot Knob, Mo., played six seasons in the NBA and is probably the only Saluki to ever lose in the finals of the league’s slam dunk contest.
Kobe Bryant beat Carr in the finals of the NBA’s 1997 event. A second-round draft pick by Phoenix in 1995, Carr started 66 of 297 career games in the NBA, scoring 1,988 points and grabbing 658 rebounds.
Carr became only the third Saluki in history to score 700 or more points in a season when he averaged a league-best 22 points per game in 1994-95. He finished with 705 points for the season. With Timmons, Paul Lusk and Shane Hawkins, SIU ended a 23-9 campaign with a 96-92 loss to Syracuse in the NCAA tournament.
Timmons still ranks among the top 15 all-time at SIU in career points (1,434, 13th), rebounds (999, fourth), assists (343, ninth), steals (211, third) and blocks (123, fourth). The MVC defensive player of the year in 1995, Timmons blocked 40 shots in 32 games that season. After leaving SIU, he won two National Basketball League championships in Australia with the Perth Wildcats, winning the Grand Finals Most Valuable Player Award in 2000.
Two future MVC head coaches were also a part of SIU’s league tournament three-peat. Lusk, Missouri State’s coach, scored 1,031 points in 91 games with the Salukis from 1993-95. Chris Lowery, who led SIU to the most wins in a single season in 2006-07 and the most losses in 2011-12 as head coach, still ranks 24th all-time in scoring with 1,225 points and fifth in assists with 391.
Lowery picked up his own miss in the final seconds of SIU’s MVC tournament opener against Southeast Missouri State in 1994 and scored to lift the Salukis to a 52-50 victory. One of three fourth-year seniors that season along with Mirko Pavlovic and Marcelo da Silva, he helped SIU to three 20-win seasons in his four years.
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