MORGANTOWN — Southern Illinois, West Virginia’s first-round opponent in the NCAA men’s tournament, has been accused of playing “ugly basketball.”

But second-year coach Chris Lowery said Monday, “It’s only in the eyes of the beholder. We guard. And if you ask anybody that plays us, (they’ll tell you) we keep teams honest.

“And when you’re patient and making people be honest — and I guess that’s ‘ugly’ in this day and age — we’ve got to pressure you.”

Lowery indicated that’s how his team intends to slow down West Virginia in Friday’s matchup at Auburn Hills, Mich.

The Mountaineers (20-10) are seeded No. 6 in the Atlanta Regional and SIU (22-10) is the No. 11 seed. It won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship with a late charge.

Friday’s game will start about 3 p.m., or 30 minutes after the conclusion of Iowa-Northwestern State, which starts at 12:25 p.m.

In the evening session at Auburn Hills, Pitt meets Kent State at 7:10 p.m. with Kansas and Bradley clashing 30 minutes following that game’s conclusion.

Friday’s winners will be paired for the two games on Sunday.

Ironically, the Salukis had lost five of their last seven regular-season games before beating Evansville, Northern Iowa and Bradley in the league tourney. They gave up an average of only 49 ppg in those three contests.

WVU dropped five of its last eight games, then bowed to old rival Pitt, 68-57, in the Big East tournament quarterfinals.

So the Salukis not only have momentum but nearly an extra week of rest, going into the NCAAs. And the last time SIU was seeded 11th, it advanced to the Sweet 16 four years ago.

“Everybody has low-scoring games in these tournaments,” Lowery said.

“That’s because they’re trying to guard and trying to win. Just playing offense is not going to win games, especially in tournaments.”

He said his team isn’t going to change how it plays just because some critics don’t like the style. He added, “You can’t worry about distractions. You just have to go out and play, just like everybody does.”

Lowrey and his players admittedly are excited about where they are. And he’s not about to argue with people who wonder why the Missouri Valley got four teams into the tournament.

He doesn’t think there are any similarities between the Mountaineers and his club. He thinks that Creighton, an MVC member, plays a style similar to WVU’s.

“But we haven’t seen a big man shoot 3’s like Kevin Pittsnogle,” Lowrey said. “And he also plays inside. I think that’s why they’re so successful.

“(The Mountaineers) are very skilled, very patient and they’re older than we are. But we really prepare to stop people. That’s something we’re really committed to doing.”

Southern Illinois has held one opponent to 38 points, 11 others to in the 40s, and 13 in the 50s.

“We have played good offensive teams and shut some down,” Lowery said.

“But you have to respect the talent that West Virginia has and their ability to find weaknesses in defenses.”

What makes SIU so effective on defense?

“I never say to our kids, ‘We have to stop one person,’” he said. “When you do that, you put so much pressure on that person to guard.

“And if he fails a little bit, he feels like he failed the team. We play team defense. We put emphasis on team.”

Each SIU player is told where he needs to be to help teammates.

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