After surviving two close games, Creighton won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament with ease.
The Bluejays got 20 points from Larry House and took advantage of horrendous first-half shooting by top-seeded Southern Illinois to cruise in the final, 80-56, Monday night at St. Louis.
“Tonight, we proved who is the best in the Valley,” House said. “It was no letup for us, from start to finish.”
The 19th-ranked Bluejays (29-4) were seeded No. 2 in the tournament after losing at Southern Illinois, 70-62, on March 1. Southern Illinois (24-6) was the regular-season champion the last two seasons.
Creighton struggled in its first two tournament games, one-point victories over each Indiana State and Wichita State, but put it all together to win the tournament championship for the fourth time in five seasons.
“We didn’t play well the first two games, and we wanted to make a statement,” forward Michael Lindeman said. “We knew we could play better.”
Southern Illinois missed 17 of its first 18 shots, shooting only 15.6% from the field in the first half and falling behind by 26 points. Creighton led by as many as 33 points in the second half.
Despite the lopsided final, both teams could be headed to the NCAA tournament. Creighton gets the conference’s automatic bid for its fifth consecutive trip. Southern Illinois was ranked 37th in the Ratings Percentage Index.
The Salukis scored fewer than 20 points in the first half for only the second time this season. The other time was also at the Savvis Center, when they had 13 points in the first half of a 70-61 loss to Saint Louis on Dec. 28. Their worst loss previously had been by 13 points at Charlotte on Dec. 18.
Kent Williams, who averages a team-high 15 points for Southern Illinois, made only one of seven from the field in the first half and finished with 13 points. Dearman, who had 43 points in the first two tournament games, had only four in the first half and finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Creighton didn’t need a big game from Kyle Korver, the conference player of the year and tournament most valuable player each of the last two years. Korver was content to distribute the ball in the first half and finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Manhattan 69, Fairfield 54 -- Luis Flores had 22 points and 10 rebounds to help the Jaspers (23-6) win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament final at Trenton, N.J. The win clinched the first trip to the NCAA tournament for Manhattan since 1995. Fairfield (19-11) got within nine points five times in the final 10 minutes.
North Carolina Wilmington 70, Drexel 62 -- Brett Blizzard scored 13 of his 20 points and hit two key three-point baskets in the second half to help the Seahawks (24-6) win the Colonial Athletic Assn. tournament final at Richmond, Va., and earn an NCAA tournament bid.