Virginia Tech’s 2006-07 basketball season came to an end on Sunday when the #5 seed Hokies fell to the #4 seed Southern Illinois Salukis 63-48 in Columbus. The game marked the end of the careers of five Tech seniors. They helped the Hokies to a 22-12 record this season, and a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996. Southern Illinois improves to 29-6 and will advance to the Sweet 16 for the second time in the past six years.
The game came down to three-point shooting. The Salukis hit their outside shots, and the Hokies didn’t. Senior guard Jamal Tatum, a 41% three-point shooter coming into the game, was 6-of-9 from long range on his way to 21 points. SIU’s other senior guard, Tony Young, was 4-of-8 from the outside. Overall, the Salukis were 12-21 from three-point range for 57.1%.
The Salukis shot better from three-point range than they did from the field overall, and from the free throw line. They shot just 44.2% on 19-of-43 shots from the field, and three-point field goals are factored into that. They were just 7-of-22 from inside the three-point line. They made only two two-pointers in the second half.
From the free throw line, the Salukis were a dreadful 13-23 for 56.5%. SIU didn’t make their free throws, and didn’t hit many of their close shots, but they nailed their long range jumpers, and that’s what counted in the end.
Meanwhile, the Hokies had their worst offensive performance of the season. Their 48 points scored was a season low. Tech was just 2-of-13 from three-point range for 15.4%. A.D. Vassallo got open looks from the outside early and often, but he couldn’t knock them down. He finished with just two points, both on free throws. He was 0-of-6 from three-point range, and 0-of-6 from the field overall.
Jamon Gordon had a very good line in his final game, scoring 16 points. He was 7-of-9 from the field. The 6-3 guard also pulled down eight rebounds, showing the toughness that endeared him to many Tech fans throughout his career.
Deron Washington was the only other Tech player in double figures. He finished with 15 points, five rebounds and two blocks. He was 6-of-12 from the field.
Things looked good for the Hokies early in the game, even though they were struggling offensively. Zabian Dowdell hit a short jumper on Tech’s first possession to put the Hokies up 2-0, and then both teams went cold. Southern Illinois didn’t score until Jamal Tatum hit a three-pointer to put the Salukis up 3-2 at the 16:44 mark.
By the 11:30 mark of the first half, it was clear that Virginia Tech was going to struggle offensively. Tony Young’s three-pointer put the Salukis up 13-8. But the Hokies responded with a 10-2 run, which was big when you consider the amount of points scored in this game.
The run included the only two three-pointers the Hokies hit during the game. Deron Washington’s three tied the game at 13, and then Jamon Gordon hit a three-pointer to put the Hokies up 18-15 at the 5:53 mark. The game was ugly, as expected, but Tech appeared to be getting it done.
However, the closing minutes of the first half belonged to the Salukis. Southern Illinois closed the half on a 13-2 run that was highlighted by a trio of three-pointers, all from Jamal Tatum. The only points the Hokies could muster in that span was a jumper in the lane from Gordon. Southern Illinois went into halftime leading 28-20.
The last three field goals by the Salukis in the first half were three-pointers by Tatum, and the second half began in the same fashion. Tatum hit a three on SIU’s first possession of the second half to make the score 31-20. From the 3:54 mark of the first half to the 19:24 mark of the second half, Tatum nailed four of his six three-pointers. That was the key stretch of the game, and with Tech’s offense struggling, they couldn’t recover.
The Hokies managed to cut the lead to seven at one point, and had a chance to make it closer. Trailing 33-26 with 13:46 remaining, Lewis Witcher missed a free throw and Deron Washington grabbed the offensive rebound. He found an open Jamon Gordon in the corner for a three-pointer that would have cut the lead to four, but Gordon couldn’t get the shot to fall.
Despite Southern Illinois scoring just two points between the 19:24 mark and the 13:24 mark, Virginia Tech couldn’t make a rally. The Hokies scored just six points in that six minute span.
The Salukis advance to the Sweet 16, where they will face the #1 seed Kansas Jayhawks.