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2007 Missouri Valley Tournament Recap: Day 4

by Andrew Force | March 4th, 2007

#2 Creighton 67, #1 Southern Illinois 61

There can be only one.

There can be only one Highlander. A 12-year old girl only gets to dub one person her “best friend.” And the very format of a single-elimination tournament necessitates only one champion.

March 4th, 2007, Creighton defeated SIU 67-61 to claim the MVC Championship.

The angry rivalry intensified Sunday afternoon with fans of both teams incendiary to the opposition. Jeers slain towards Saluki and CU players crossed the line a couple of times. The chants rarely ceased while game hung in the balance.

The rivalry between the two mightiest Valley schools is deep, but you would have a hard time telling from the battles of recent years. Only one CU player, fifth-year senior Nate Funk, played for the Jays when they last beat SIU, four years ago.

For Creighton’s three seniors, the tournament was a nice farewell to Valley basketball. All three starting seniors, Funk, Anthony Tolliver, and Nick Porter earned All-Tournament Team honors.

SIU starters Matt Shaw and Jamaal Tatum nabbed the other two spots.

The Salukis had everything going for them. SIU won the 2006 MVC Tournament, the 2006-2007 regular season championship, and possessed a 13-game winning streak coming in. What they didn’t have was Randal Falker.

“Big R” embarrassed every opponent in the ’06 Tourney and finished 3rd in voting for Valley Player of the Year this year. The 2007 play-offs proved to be a different story.

Falker was bad.

And his coach Chris Lowery knew it.

In a typical foul-free SIU game, Falker subs out thrice. In the last two days, Falker left the floor at least four times per half. Against Bradley, Lowery removed the big man four times in the first half and against CU Falker came out four times in the second stanza.

“We have to find ways to motivate him to play well above all circumstances. The fact that he’s had three [bad games] in a row doesn’t help us.”

In three games, the star rounded up 22 points.

Watching Tony Boyle take two ill-advised, low percentage shots, Lowery found Falker on the bench and yelled “Your fault. It’s your fault.” The less-than-buried meaning was that Falker’s poor play and benching brought on high minutes for the 8th man Boyle.

Southern has now lost the championship game five times, while winning it five times too.

The victorious Bluejays broke the game open with successive steals to begin the second half. Nate Funk sealed his Most Valuable Player bid with 3:29 to play. Southern Illinois closed the game to a six point difference and the crowd was roaring. Funk dribbled down the baseline and rose to nail a short jumper, fouling Bryan Mullins out in the process.

The Creighton band jammed a song with one memorable, blatantly-applicable lyric…
We got the Funk.

And they are the only ones that do.

–Andrew Force

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