COLUMBUS, Ohio - Standing on the sideline Sunday in the closing minutes of Virginia Tech's 63-48 loss to Southern Illinois, coach Seth Greenberg wrapped his arms around the waists of his two senior guards, Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon.
Gordon stared over Greenberg's left shoulder at Tech's bench, itching to take a seat and get out of the spotlight. Dowdell just hung his head.
For a second, it looked like Greenberg planned to stand there in front of the scorer's table with his guards for the rest of the game, but he couldn't do it. Greenberg had to let them go.
This was it.
"I try to be macho out there and try not to get emotional, but four years is a long time, man," said Dowdell, who had seven points on 3-for-9 shooting and didn't score a field goal in the second half for the second straight game.
"I think the biggest memory I'll have is just making it here. We fought four years to see what the tournament was like. Even though we didn't do as well as we wanted to, just to make it I think is a big accomplishment."
Southern Illinois (29-6), the fourth seed in the NCAA tournament West Regional, brought the college careers of Tech starters Coleman Collins, Dowdell and Gordon to an end in the second round of the tournament.
The Salukis move on to play Kansas on Thursday in San Jose, Calif., in a regional semifinal game.
Tech (22-12) matched its lowest point production in a game in Greenberg's four years as coach. The Hokies hit just 19 of 46 shots from the floor (41.3 percent) and went 8-of-16 from the free throw line.
Nobody on Tech's roster could produce consistently in the post or on the perimeter. The Hokies were 2-of-13 from 3-point range. A.D. Vassallo, who entered the game shooting 43.1 percent (66-of-153) on 3-point attempts, was 0-for-6 in the game. Collins, who had 13 points Friday in Tech's first-round win against Illinois, finished with just four before fouling out with 7:50 left.
"We just couldn't get into the flow of the offense," said Tech's Deron Washington, who had 15 points. "When I saw that (we were missing free throws), I thought this might just be their day."
While the fifth-seeded Hokies struggled to find their shooting touch, Southern Illinois was sharp from beyond the 3-point line. The Salukis came into the game averaging 36 percent from 3-point range, but they shot better on 3-point shots (12-for-21) against the Hokies than they did from inside the arc (7-for-22).
Trailing 28-20 at halftime, Tech tried to rally on several occasions in the second half, but Southern Illinois always hit a 3-point shot to end the threat or Tech missed one of its own to kill the comeback.
The Hokies cut the Salukis' lead to 33-26 with 13:46 remaining when Lewis Witcher hit 1 of 2 free throws. After missing the second one, Washington grabbed the rebound and kicked the ball out to Gordon for an open 3-point attempt.
Gordon, who led the team with 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting, missed it. Bryan Mullins spotted up at the other end of the floor and hit a 3-pointer to put Southern Illinois back up by 10.
"I don't think in their game plan they wanted to shoot half their shots from 3-point range," Greenberg said. "I don't think that's who they are, but they made shots."
With 12:30 left, Vassallo hit two free throws to slice Southern Illinois' advantage to 38-30. Then, Wesley Clemmons made a 3-point shot his only basket of the game on SIU's next trip up the floor to boost the lead to 41-30.
Washington got Tech back within single digits by making 1 of 2 free throws with 10:43 left, but SIU answered again. This time, Tony Young nailed a 3-pointer with 10:18 left to increase the lead to 44-32. Tech never got the lead below double digits again.
Jamaal Tatum led Southern Illinois with 21 points, including 6-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. Young chipped in with 17 points, highlighted by a 4-for-8 effort on 3-pointers.