(Not-so) fond farewell

Jamaal Tatum led the Russellville Indians to the State Sectional Round.

Jamaal Tatum and Brenden Jackson surely have some fond memories of Fleming Fieldhouse.

Tatum from his stellar, all-state career with the Helias Crusaders; Jackson after some noteworthy games during his three years with the Jefferson City Jays.

They returned to Fleming Fieldhouse on Wednesday night as Russellville Indians.

This probably won't be considered a fond memory.

It wasn't much of a fond farewell, either.

In a stunning second half, the Salisbury Panthers turned a two-point deficit into a 30-point rout, 77-47, during a Class 2 sectional bout at Fleming Fieldhouse.

"It's one of those things; sometimes basketball goes that way," said Tatum, head coach of the Indians. "I can't really put my finger on what happened, to be honest."

I'm not sure how it happened, either. I can only think of one thing --- the second-ranked Panthers (27-1) are good.

Really good.

The Indians (21-8), however, led 12-9 after one quarter, courtesy of three free throws by Jackson after time expired when he was fouled on a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

The Indians led by as many as seven points in the second quarter, 31-30 at the half and 36-34 after fastbreak score by Levi Anderson with 5:45 left in the third.

"I think we were a little surprised with how physical they were and how they took it to us in the first half," Salisbury coach Kenny Wyatt said. "Maybe that was a good wake-up call for us.

"I thought we did a little better job of taking it to them in the second half."

A little better? That, sports fans, is what you'd call an understatement.

The Panthers ended the third quarter with a 12-1 run to take a 46-37 lead, a flurry that was fueled by five straight Indian turnovers.

"They capitalize on turnovers really well," Tatum said. "You can't do that against a good team, they'll make you pay."

This run turned into a run-over. Playing with nearly-perfect offensive efficiency in the fourth quarter, the Panthers used a 31-10 scoring edge --- that would be a game-ending 43-11 run --- to win going away.

"We created some turnovers out of our traps," Wyatt said, "and this team is probably the best defense-to-offense team I've ever had.

"They really get out in transition well."

Salisbury's three-headed senior monster played beyond well, including Wyatt's twin sons, Austin and Zachary. Austin poured in 28 points, while Zachary totaled 12 points and 13 rebounds. Senior Austin Francis added 19 points.

Anderson had 11 points and eight rebounds for Russellville, which snapped a lengthy postseason drought after winning last week's district title.

And it came under the direction of first-year coach Tatum, who was hired just weeks before the season started after then-head coach, Scott White, was let go after being charged with four counts of statutory rape during his time in the Exeter school district.

Not exactly the way you envision starting your coaching career, but ...

"It was a great experience; I enjoyed seeing the kids grow, as individuals and a team," Tatum said. "I didn't really know what to expect coming into it, but I really enjoyed it "

A quick bio on Tatum: He's 28, a 2003 graduate of Helias, and he went on to have a wonderful career at Southern Illinois, as he helped the Salukis advance to the NCAA Tournament four straight years.

His senior year, when he was named the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, he was the key cog in the Salukis' run to the Sweet 16.

Tatum currently ranks seventh in school history in scoring (1,667 points), fourth in 3-pointers (220), eighth in career steals (159), 13th in career assists (309) --- feats that recently earned him a spot in the SIU Hall of Fame.

Great stuff. Now comes the question, what's next?

"I have to see how things go," Tatum said. "I have to see if I'm going to pursue playing again --- I still have a few options open to play with a few teams --- or if I just get into coaching full time.

"Right now," he said with a smile, "I'm a Russellville Native American, that's who I'm with."

If that weren't enough, he was co-founder of a clothing line, One Couture, in 2007. Tatum and his two assistant coaches looked the part Wednesday night --- this was either a tribute to Men in Black or Johnny Cash.

Black from head to toe.

"We just try to keep it simple," he said. "And (the business) is going good, I enjoy doing it. I got into it in college and I really like it."

Said Tatum in a 2008 interview: "I have so many dreams and people laugh at them, but at least I'm dreaming. That's the way I see it."

Meanwhile, the dream continues for the Panthers, as they advance to the quarterfinals for the third straight year to face fourth-ranked Canton (27-1) at noon Saturday at Moberly Community College.

Salisbury advanced to the championship game last year before falling to Billings.

"We've got several seniors who've been in some big games," coach Wyatt said, "so they know what they have to do down the stretch.

"We just hope we can continue."

Don't be surprised if they do. They're good.

Really good.