CARBONDALE — The stars came out for SIU's men's basketball team during its run to the 2007 Sweet 16. Even the one with the sprained left foot.
Junior forward Matt Shaw, a starter on the Salukis' record-setting 29-win team that season, missed their second-round win over Virginia Tech with a sprained left foot. He could barely put weight on it the day before fourth-seeded SIU took on top-seeded Kansas in San Jose, California, for the program's first spot in the Elite Eight. Shaw played 36 minutes off the bench, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds, but the Salukis fell 61-58 at HP Pavilion.
"Matt came out and played huge," starting forward Randal Falker told The Southern Illinoisan after the loss. "Everybody on this team has had something wrong with them at some point of this year. You'd see (Jamaal Tatum) gut it out. I would gut it out. If you can walk, you can run."
Falker, who averaged 11 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in SIU's three games in the NCAA Tournament that season, delivered 11 points and nine boards against a Kansas squad with five future NBA players. Tatum, an SIU Hall of Famer, had a game-high 19 but missed a potentially-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds. Backcourt mate Tony Young added 14 points and point guard Bryan Mullins, currently the coach of the Salukis, had two assists, two turnovers, two steals and a rebound in the final game of his sophomore season.
Forward Brandon Rush, one of those five future NBA players for the Jayhawks, went 6 of 6 from the field and was the only Kansas player in double figures with 12 points. Rush added five rebounds and five assists. The Jayhawks won with depth, as Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur all had nine points, and Darrell Jackson had eight.
"My hat goes off to them, because they did a good job," then-SIU coach Chris Lowery said. "But we were right there. We had an opportunity to win the game, and time just ran out for us."
SIU won the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title, went 13-0 at home and played 23 of its school-record 36 games on the road or at neutral sites. The Salukis lost to Creighton in the finals of the MVC Tournament in one of the only two sellout sessions in the league's marquee event. The other sellout was the semifinals of the MVC Tournament that year, when SIU beat Bradley 53-51 and Creighton topped Missouri State 75-58.
The Salukis' scoring defense, 56.2 points allowed per game, was ranked third in the nation. Falker was the league's Defensive Player of the Year, Lowery was Coach of the Year, and Tatum was Player of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year. SIU appeared on ESPN's family of networks nine times and on CBS four times. The Salukis finished the season ranked 11th in the final coaches poll, the highest in school history.
Kansas got knocked out of the tournament in the Elite 8 by UCLA, which featured Arron Affalo, Josh Shipp and Darren Collison. UCLA was defeated in the Final Four by eventual champion Florida.
SIU beat Holy Cross 61-51 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and fifth-seeded Virginia Tech 63-48 to reach its third Sweet 16 in school history. After the loss to Kansas, the Salukis had no regrets.
"I'm proud of everybody on my team, everybody that stepped on the court and fought with us, fought for us," Young said. "There's no doubts, no regrets."
On Twitter: @THefferman
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