(PAMELA KAY SCHMALENBERGER ~ The Southern Illinoisan)
SIU scored 12 straight points late in the first half to open up a comfortable lead and the Salukis fended off several strong Southeast charges to post a 71-58 victory in front of 4,678 fans at the SIU Arena.
The Salukis improved to 4-0 and posted their 29th consecutive home win, tying Duke for that honor. SIU has not lost at the SIU Arena since the 2000-2001 season.
"To win that many games in a row at home is really hard to do," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "They're really tough to beat here and we knew we were going to have to play really well, but I thought we could win this game."
Garner could not fault the Indians' effort after they fell to 3-2 and lost to SIU for the 10th time in the last 11 meetings, including three straight. Southeast made the Salukis sweat, trailing by just six points in the late going.
"I thought we really competed," he said. "I was really pleased with our effort and I'm proud of them."
But Garner was quick to point out that the Indians did not play quite well enough to pull off a major upset. They shot just 36.8 percent from the field (21 of 57), including only 25 percent from 3-point range (five of 20). And Southeast had 17 turnovers.
"We played really hard and we played together," Garner said. "But our inexperience showed at times, handling certain situations."
SIU shot 50 percent (28 of 56), including 55.6 percent (15 of 27) in the second half. The Salukis also had only 12 turnovers. Yet still they could not totally shake the Indians -- just as coach Matt Painter had expected.
"I expected a really tough game. Any time you play a Gary Garner team, it's going to be tough," Painter said. "They're a good team and they're going to win a lot of games."
Gonner leads the wayJunior forward Dainmon Gonner, a first-year Indian, continued his strong early-season play as he scored a game-high 24 points.
"We played hard, but we turned the ball over too much and the pressure got us some," Gonner said. "We got down, but we hung in there."
Junior guard Derek Winans added 14 points, 12 in the second half.
"They're a tough team," Winans said. "But we played our hearts out."
SIU was led by ultra-quick freshman guard Jamaal Tatum, who scored a team-high 16 points and hit four of five 3-pointers. He had been averaging five points and had hit just one of six from long range. He scored 13 second-half points, most of them coming after Southeast runs.
"It's about time I hit some shots," Tatum said with a smile.
Said Painter, "Jamaal Tatum saved us tonight."
Junior guard Darren Brooks added 12 points for SIU, junior forward LaMar Owen had 11 points and senior center Sylvester Willis scored 10 points with 11 rebounds, although Southeast held a 36-34 edge on the boards.
Gonner almost singlehandedly kept the Indians within striking distance in the first half, when he scored 14 points. Yet Southeast still trailed 33-25, thanks to SIU's late surge.
Southeast led 19-17 after two Gonner free throws with 6:06 left. SIU then scored 12 straight points in under three minutes to go up 29-19, and the Salukis later extended the run to 16-2 for a 33-21 advantage.
"They put pressure on us and built a lead before halftime, and it was hard to come back from that," Winans said.
Gonner scored the final four points of the half, including a jumper from just inside the 3-point line at the buzzer to pull Southeast within 33-25.
Southeast closed within 41-35 early in the second half, but Tatum scored eight points during a 10-3 burst that opened up a 51-38 bulge.
Still, Southeast would not go away. Down 57-44, the Indians made one more major push, scoring seven straight points and making it 57-51 on a Brandon Griffin layup with 5:33 remaining.
The Indians then had two straight possessions with a chance to draw closer, but a missed shot and a turnover kept SIU's lead at six. The Salukis quickly went up 62-52, and Southeast got no closer than seven points the rest of the way as SIU padded the final margin in the closing moments.
The game, scheduled for a 7:05 p.m. tipoff, began 45 minutes late because two of the three officials had not yet arrived. A substitute official was used for the first half, when play was held with two officials. All three of the regular officials called the second half.