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Creighton edges Southern Illinois for MVC title, NCAA bid

Mar 5, 2007 - 12:54 AM ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Nate Funk and Creighton made sure that there was no guesswork concerning the NCAAs this time.

Funk scored 19 points and Anthony Tolliver added 15 as the Bluejays upset No. 11 Southern Illinois, 67-61, to capture the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Improving to 10-1 in the MVC championship game, Creighton (22-10) secured its seventh appearance in the "Big Dance" in the past nine years under coach Dana Altman.

"It's an unbelievable feeling," Funk said. "This is my third experience and it doesn't get any better than this. It's a great feeling. I'm happy for these guys. I'm happy for my teammates, and it's just fun."

Last season, the Bluejays were upset in the opening round of this event and were among the most notable teams that did not receive an at-large bid along with MVC squad Missouri State.

"We weren't certain whether we were going to get in or not," Funk said. "I believe we were right on the bubble. The only way to guarantee our spot in the tournament was to win this game.

"Besides Southern, you know, the rest of the league had to win the tournament to get in to solidify their spot, to make sure they were getting in. That's the way we came into this tournament, that we had to win three to get in."

Creighton was carried through this tournament by Funk, the league's top scorer. Coming off a season-high 33-point effort in a 75-58 win over Missouri State in Saturday's semifinal, Funk shot 9-of-19 from the field to score in double figures for the 24th consecutive game.

Behind 12 first-half points from Funk, the Bluejays held a 32-28 advantage at intermission. That cushion grew to 13 points as they opened the second half with a 15-6 run, pulling ahead, 47-34, on a jumper by Tolliver with 11:23 remaining.

A club guaranteed an at-large bid in the NCAAs no matter what happen in this tournament, the Salukis (27-6) did attempt a comeback, closing within 59-53 on a jumper by Bryan Mullins with 3:54 to play.

However, Funk was fouled on a baseline jumper on the ensuing possession and made the free throw for a three-point play.

A jumper by MVC Player of the Year Jamaal Tatum moved Southern Illinois within 64-59 with 51 seconds left before Josh Dotzler and Nick Porter combined for 3-of-4 free throws inside the closing minute for Creighton.

Tolliver grabbed 13 rebounds and Porter had 15 points and six assists for the Bluejays, who avenged a pair of losses to the Salukis in the regular season.

In fact, the Salukis had won the previous eight meetings in the series dating back to the 2003-04 season. Creighton's previous win over Southern Illinois came in the 2003 MVC Tournament championship game.

"They've given us fits over the last couple years - three years - and so it was a good win for us, and you know, they're in the tournament," Altman said of Southern Illinois. "They're going to make a great showing for the league, but today we just made a few more plays. We had two knock-down drag-out (games) with them during the season and lost a couple of real close games, and this one just went our way."

"I'm pretty sure that they beat us eight straight times," Funk said. "It's not a rivalry anymore because they just dominated us. In the previous two games this year, they were both hard-fought games. They could have gone either way at any time, but it's a good feeling to finally knock them out one time."

Tatum scored 21 points for Southern Illinois, which committed 23 fouls and had three starters foul out.

Those frequent fouls sent Creighton to the stripe 28 times, and it converted 21 attempts including 71 percent (17-of-24) in the second half.

"They came and really played very physical and really did a good job of forcing the action offensively, not doing as much of their stuff," Salukis coach Chris Lowery said. "They got to the free-throw line. They really did a good job of driving to draw fouls instead of driving to score, and we did a very poor job of guarding in the paint, being tough in the trenches."

Matt Shaw scored 11 points and Mullins added 10 for Southern Illinois, which went just 63 percent (10-of-16) on free throws.

    --- --- -----
    CREIGHTON 32 35 67
    SOUTHN ILLINOIS (11) 28 33 61 FINAL

    Mar 4 4:14 PM


    Mar 4 2:52 PM
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    Creighton vs. Southern IllinoisMar 4 2:52 PM