By Craig Phelps
St. Louis, MO- The Missouri State bears had been living life on the edge in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament hosted in St. Louis. They edged out Southern Illinois, having to rely on a last second shot from Kyle Weems to take away a 58-56 victory. That was the Bears only lead of the game. The Bears struggled early the next night, but managed to pull out a rather rough 10 point victory over the Creighton Bluejays. The number one seed in the Archmadness tournament shot just 37 percent from the field and only 25 percent from beyond the arc in their 60-50 win.
Third seeded Indiana State, on the other hand, was hardly given a chance to pull the upset. Missouri State and Wichita State were the clear favorite heading into the tournament, everybody else was just an obstacle. Actually, the Sycamores were probably looked at like more of a small speed bump heading into conference play. With the 244th worst offense in the league and just one player averaging barely double figures, the boys of Terre Haute, Indiana looked more like an ugly duckling than a Cinderella.
The Sycamores decided they would see if the glass show fit so they could go dancing. Well, watch out Cinderella because the dance floor just got a little more crowded.
Indiana State defeated Evansville 52-50 and shocked the Shockers of Wichita State 61-54 to advance to the Championship game. Then it came time to face the big boys, Missouri State, who they stunned 60-56 to take away the title and the MVC automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
ISU’s head coach, Greg Lansing, was all smiles after the game as he gave credit to his team.
“I just want to thank these players. I’ve said it all along; the quality of the young men on this team is the best I’ve been around. These players deserve everything,” said Lansing.
Lansing didn’t seem so confident at the start of the game. The Bears ran out to a quick 9-0 run that had the Sycamores back on their heels early. Indiana State didn’t stand still for too long, as freshman sensation Jake Odum drove the lane time and time again to set up his teammates.
“Coach told us to stay poised and keep being confident. We started out slow every game this tournament, but we just kicked in a sense of urgency in the second half and we battled through,” said the redshirt freshman, Odum.
The Sycamores cranked up the defensive pressure during the second half. They held the Bears to just 19.4 percent shooting in the second half, their lowest in the tournament. Missouri State went almost 12 minutes without a field goal. They started out the second half having to score their first 8 points from the free throw line.
“They did a good job pressuring us. The shots we usually make just weren’t falling tonight. It happens sometimes,” said the Bears Jermaine Mallett, who had a game high 17 points.
The was back and forth in the second half, with Adam Leonard hitting a bit three point shot to put the Bears down by just a point with 27 seconds left. From there, it came down to free throw shooting for the Sycamores.
Jake Odum and Jake Kelly put the finishing touches on the Bears from the charity stripe to give their team the 60-56 win and send them to the big dance.
Missouri State will await the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Sunday to see if they make the expanded field of 68.
Video of the finals tip-off: