Jermaine Dearman had 17 points and 11 rebounds Friday night as 11th-seeded Southern Illinois beat Tech 76-68 in an Eastern Regional opener.
"I'd have been disappointed eventually if we'd gotten beat in the championship game," said Knight, who won three national titles at Indiana. "Yeah, I'm disappointed, but also I can look at how we played and how they played, and they're just better at some things than we were."
But while Tech was the sixth seed, this wasn't that much of an upset.
"I really was impressed with Southern Illinois right from the very beginning," Knight said. "They had a mental toughness that was really extraordinary. They were just tougher than we were all across the floor, and they maintained that the whole ballgame."
Kent Williams scored 17 for the Salukis, who won their school-record 27th game. Southern Illinois held Tech to just 39 percent shooting-and that was with Dearman and Rolan Roberts, their top defenders, starting the game on the bench.
The two missed their first start of the season after being late to practice Tuesday.
Andy Ellis and Kasib Powell had 19 each for Tech, but leading scorer Andre Emmett had just nine points.
"We didn't come ready to play tonight and if you don't do that, you're going to get beat," Ellis said.
Still, Tech's turnaround this season was remarkable. The Raiders were 9-19 last season, and Knight took six holdovers, four junior college transfers, two freshmen and a walk-on and earned Tech's first NCAA bid since 1996.
"I grew up watching him when he was back at Indiana," said Dearman, an Indianapolis native. "I don't know if I ever really wanted to play for him because I know the kind of coach that he is. I know he's a good coach, but I know he gets a little frustrated at players at times.
"So I felt great winning the game today."
"Our kids, if I were to say a weakness, I'd have quickly said mental toughness," Knight said. "Southern Illinois both played smarter and harder than we did. Hopefully we can learn something and grow from it."