CARBONDALE, Ill. - With its leading scorer, Jamaal Tatum, sidelined with a deep-thigh bruise, Southern Illinois relied on its defense to subdue Bradley, 60-50, Wednesday night at SIU Arena.
Tatum's injury took place in practice on Tuesday, and the senior guard played only the first six minutes of the game before it tightened up.
Teammate Tony Young, who entered the game averaging nine points, made all four of his 3-point attempts in the first half and finished with a season-high 25 points to pick up the slack and give Southern its sixth-straight win.
"Tony was very aggressive," Saluki head coach Chris Lowery said. "He's a senior. He knows Jamaal was out, and somebody had to take over."
The #20-ranked Salukis (20-5, 11-3) took their biggest lead of the night, 33-15, on a three-ball by Young from the corner with 2:26 to go in the first half.
Bradley head coach Jim Les scolded his team during a timeout.
"It seemed like (Southern Illinois) had the right of passage to do anything they wanted to do," he said, regarding his team's defense.
The Braves (16-10, 7-7) were stone cold from the perimeter the entire night. The league's top 3-point shooting team was held to 3-of-22 from behind the arc.
"I thought we had some great looks," Les said. "Sometimes, they don't go in."
Still, Bradley came within five points, 52-47, with 3:32 remaining, thanks a to a seven-minute dry spell in which Southern made just one field goal.
"We're playing good teams, and nobody is going to lay down to us," Lowery said. "There's not many big blow-outs in college basketball anymore because of parity."
However, the Salukis sealed the victory by making all six of their free throw tries down the stretch.
Although the Braves had cut the deficit to 12 at halftime, Les said it was still too big a margin for his team to overcome in a possession-type game.
"For 23 minutes, I was proud of our effort," he said. "Prior to that, we dug ourselves too big a hole against a good team."
In the last three games, SIU's defense has held opponents to 8-of-48 (16.6 percent) from 3-point range.
"We're guarding and doing what we're supposed to do," Lowery said. "Our rotation is better. We're not being lazy."
Bradley guard Will Franklin, who led his team with 15 points, said Southern's defensive intensity never let up.
"They are the most physical team we play," Franklin said. "They play good defense. They get away with a lot of stuff. That's just their reputation. It's good hard-nosed defense."
Saluki forward Randal Falker had his sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds. He faced double-teaming in the post all night.
Lowery said he was most pleased with the rebounding effort of his front court, which helped SIU grab a 41-28 edge on the glass.
"Randal and Matt (Shaw) were dominate on the boards tonight, which we needed them to be," said Lowery, whose team avenged a two-point loss at Bradley earlier this season. "We did a much better job of being in position this game than we did in Peoria."
With Tatum hurting, sophomore guard Wesley Clemmons played 22 minutes, the most court action he has seen since before Christmas. Clemmons turned in a respectable seven points and three rebounds.
"I thought Wesley did a good job today on both sides of the ball," Lowery said "He was really getting after people. He had not played that hard in a very long time, and he knew it."
The Salukis remained in a first place tie atop the Missouri Valley Conference with Creighton, which beat Evansville. The two teams meet at 5 p.m. on Saturday at SIU Arena. The game is sold out.