MVC Saturday Recap: Bears Chop Down Sycamores, WSU Clinches Title

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri State trumps the trees on lumberjack day, securing Wichita State's MVC regular season title before they even took the court against Drake. Also, the Salukis may be better than we thought.

MISSOURI STATE BEARS 77, INDIANA STATE SYCAMORES 66

The Missouri State students showed up wearing flannel, bearing cardboard axes, and sang Ke$ha and Pitbull's "Timber." The Bears had their best performance since early January.

In spite of upending the number two team in the conference it wasn't Missouri State that had reason to celebrate when the final buzzer sounded, it was Wichita State's moment of glory. While it may have been a forgone conclusion that the only team in the nation with a perfect record would win the MVC, this moment secured WSU's eighth Missouri Valley regular season champion title.

While freshman guard Austin Ruder lead the team with 15 points, the game was won because the Bears actually moved the ball and took a balanced approach to scoring. Four Bears scored in double digits, while all but one active player put the ball in the basket at least once, something that hasn't been seen since floor captain Marshall went out for the season.

Inversely, Indiana State was held to an uncharacteristic five three pointers on 24 attempts.

The Bears may have lead the entire contest, but nobody should blame the MSU faithful for thinking it wasn't going to go their way. Whether it be lessons from Wichita State coming back against the Bears earlier this season from a double digit deficit, or seeing Jake Odum trample on Missouri State's dreams in 2011, fans know the Bears are prone to allowing significant comebacks. With just a little bit over seven minutes left in the game the Sycamores cut down the lead to one point.

Indiana State had been chipping away at the lead the entire second half. Odum transitioned from the ball distributor role that he plays so well to dominant veteran who knows how to draw fouls, taking charge of the comeback. At the same time, guard Manny Arop took advantage of the two inches he has on Ruder to sail pinpoint threes over his head.

The Bears managed to answer the comeback with a quick layup and an emphatic block on the other end by Jamar Gulley on Devonte Brown. Gulley picked up the ball and sprinted down the court, only to dish it to Ruder for a three, making it a 56-50 lead the Bears would never look back from.

Indiana State is still in control for the second seed in the MVC Tournament, while the Bears move into a tie for fourth with Southern Illinois. Both the Salukis and Bears are half a game behind Illinois State and barely ahead of UNI as they compete for the coveted third seed, which would put them on the Sycamore side of the bracket instead of the Shocker side.

WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS 83, DRAKE BULLDOGS 54

WSU may have already clinched the title before stepping on the Koch Arena court, but they couldn't cut down the nets quite yet considering they still had a game to play

That's not to say that Coach Marshall didn't give the Bulldogs a little help, playing star Cleanthoy Early only 17 minutes (in which he scored only three points). That didn't hurt the WSU offense much, though, as Tekele Cotton stepped up to score 21 on a 9 for 12 performance.

Perhaps more impressive were Cotton's seven steals, which lead the way towards the Shocker defense forcing 20 turnovers, double their own 10 mark.

Fred VanVleet, who had three steals of his own, and Darius Carter also put up 15 points apiece, putting Wichita State's many scoring threats on display.

If you would like to read more about WSU's game and celebration, head over here to read a more in depth story by Ben Miraski.

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS SALUKIS 61, EVANSVILLE PURPLE ACES 56

This isn't so much a recap, and is more so me eating crow about the Salukis. I have previously written incredibly in depth analysis such as "They are bad," and "The Salukis are still unquestionably the worst team in the Valley."

For the first half of the season I was certainly right. Entering Valley play SIU was 4-9, their best wins were against sister school SIU-Edwardsville and the San Diego Toreros, and they had lost to the likes of Austin Peay and Chicago State. The Salukis then began their MVC slate with only two wins out of eight games.

Then something changed. Well, actually, two things changed. The first thing is called "Anthony Beane."

We already knew Desmar Jackson was good, and Beane had shown some flashes of offensive brilliance. However, ever since SIU's 79-60 upset of Indiana State on January 29, Beane has been a force to be reckoned with, and the Salukis have benefited greatly. On Saturday night Beane lead all scorers with 22 points against Evansville, the sixth win in the last eight games. The least that Beane has scored in the eight game stretch was 18, averaging 23 and some change per game.

However, much of the credit must go to Coach Barry Hinson for moving away from a traditional starting lineup. Up through the close loss to Missouri State, Hinson was still starting their only big man Davante Drinkard at the 5 spot. Drinkard, unfortunately, doesn't shoot the ball well, doesn't rebound the ball as often as he should, and is terribly inconsistent on his defense.

So Hinson made the choice to stop forcing Drinkard into a starting role and now starts small, and goes small for more of the game. The young and talented freshman forward from Nigeria, Bola Olaniyan, now starts at the 5 spot, and usually the rest of the court consists purely of guards. After all, when all of your talented defenders and scorers are guards, they're still the ones needed on the court, even if the tallest person who receives significant minutes is now 6'7".

The transition has done wonders for the Salukis, who have shown that they not only have the talent to compete, but actually have avenged nearly every conference loss they have suffered. If the Salukis win their last regular season game against Illinois State, then they will have either split or swept every conference opponent apart from the Shockers.

BRADLEY BRAVES 55, LOYOLA RAMBLERS 38

Walt Lemon, Jr., does not want his Braves to be last in the Valley in his senior season. He made sure that Bradley out scored Loyola stealing the ball five times and putting up 16 points, making him the only player in double digits for either team.

Had Bradley lost, they would have been tied with Evansville for last in the conference, but instead they relegated the Ramblers to that position. The low scoring game was a defensive grind for both sides, but Bradley's proved superior by stripping the ball away on 14 occasions, for a total of 23 Rambler turnovers.

Loyola was lead by junior Christian Thomas, who scored nine on four shots out of seven attempts. Thomas was the only Rambler to make over two shots, but failed to hit either of his two three point attempts. Loyola, as a whole, made a dismal one three point shot out of 18 tries.

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