Men's Basketball claims conference title, automatic bid to NCAA Tournament

March 5, 2006

ST. LOUIS, Mo. -

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Randal Falker's career-high 16 rebounds powered Southern Illinois to a 59-46 victory over Bradley in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game Sunday, leading the Salukis to their fifth straight spot in the NCAA tournament.

Falker had 17 points while Jamaal Tatum added 16 and Matt Shaw 14 for second-seeded Southern Illinois (22-10), which won the tournament for the first time since 1995. Chris Lowery became the first member of the Valley to win a championship as player and coach.

Southern Illinois started the second half with a 17-2 run and ended Bradley's seven-game winning streak. The Salukis took the title one season after a frustrating four-year run in which they won the regular-season title but then lost in the conference tournament. Bradley hasn't won the tournament title since 1988.

Patrick O'Bryant had 16 points for Bradley (20-10), the fifth seed, which upset top seed Wichita State in the semifinals. O'Bryant hit his first six shots, three of them dunks, but was quiet after absorbing a hard foul by Tony Young with four minutes to go in the first half. He had only three points and one rebound the rest of the way.

Marcellus Sommerville, who leads Bradley with a 15-point average, missed eight of his first nine shots and had 11 points. Tony Bennett had 11 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

Falker opened the second half with a dunk and Shaw ended the run with a jam in Southern Illinois' dominating stretch. A 24-23 deficit became a 40-26 lead with 9:59 to go. Falker had nine points in the run and Shaw scored six.

Bradley missed 11 of its first 12 shots in the half and scored only three points in the first 13 minutes. The Braves made a late push on a pair of 3-pointers by Bennett in a span of 15 seconds that cut the gap to 44-38, but Southern Illinois answered with eight straight free throws in the next 1:06.

The game was delayed for several minutes late in the second half when a Southern Illinois cheerleader crashed to the floor during a routine. Kristi Yamaoka was carted off on a stretcher wearing a pair of braces, but waved to the crowd.


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