Missouri State freshman helps Bears pick up 20th win and advance to Valley semifinals
March 7, 2014
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ST. LOUIS – Austin Ruder matched career highs in points and 3-pointers made to lead Missouri State past 5th-seeded Illinois State 53-48 here Friday (March 7) in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball championship.
The Bears (20-11) used a clutch 8-2 run over the last four minutes to turn away the Redbirds (16-15). With the Bears trailing 46-45 with 5:40 to play, Ruder (Fr., Nixa, Mo.) started the final surge when he nailed a 3-pointer – his sixth of the day – to put the Bears in front by a score of 48-46, a lead the Maroon and White would not relinquish the lead the rest of the way.
The sixth long-range basket by Ruder set a new Missouri State record at Arch Madness and put him in elite company as just the fourth freshman in league history to score 70 or more 3-pointers in a season.
That score held until 38 seconds were left in the contest. Bears freshman Devon Thomas (Silver Spring, Md.) blocked a driving shot by the Redbirds’ Paris Lee, and the Bears used the ensuing possession to build its lead to 50-46. Keith Pickens’ tip-in off Thomas’s missed jumper gave the Bears the four-point advantage.
The MSU defense held tough from there to send the 4th-seeded Bears to a semifinal matchup against No. 2-ranekd Wichita State, the tournament’s top seed, at 1:35 p.m. on Saturday. With the win, MSU also secured its third 20-win season in the least five years.
For the game, the Bears racked up 19 offensive rebounds to tie their second-best output at the MVC Tournament – also against Illinois State on March 7, 2008. In all, MSU owned a 45-36 advantage on the glass.
Missouri State's run was necessitated by a barrage of 3-point baskets by Illinois State – particularly sophomore Zach Lofton – in the second half. Down 34-24 with 15:42 to play, Lofton went on a personal 9-0 run on a trio of 3-point buckets to cut the lead to 34-33. The attack was part of a larger 19-7 Redbirds run over 10:32 that gave the lower-seeded club from Peoria, Ill. the 43-41 lead.
Ruder led the Bears with 21 points on 6-13 shooting, while Keith Pickens (Sr., St. Louis, Mo.) had a game-high 14 rebounds. Lofton led all scorers with 25 points on 9-19 shooting, and made four of nine 3-pointers in the second stanza.
After a rough-and-tumble first period, a pair of Ruder 3-pointers in the first 5:11 of the second half helped MSU pick up the pace. The Bears opened the second period on 5-8 shooting to build a 34-27 lead. Lofton also hit two 3-pointers during that span to counter and keep the deficit manageable for Illinois State.
The Bears held a 22-17 advantage at halftime despite converting 27.6 percent of its field goal attempts (8-29). The Redbirds didn’t shoot well either, scoring on just 20 percent (4-20) of its attempts.
However, Nathan Scheer (Sr., Washington, Mo.) and Christian Kirk (Jr., Springfield, Mo.) converted a nifty alley-oop pass with 20 seconds before the halftime break. Scheer hit Kirk with a perfect lob from the top of the key for the two-handed slam to stake MSU to its 22-17 halftime lead.
MSU opened the game with a 15-5 lead in the game’s first 10:52 before Illinois State and Lofton helped closed the gap on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 15-13 with 6:30 showing on the clock. Lofton’s 3-point bucket preceded two made free throws by the sophomore. After Reggie Lynch missed the back end of a 1-and-1 opportunity, Lofton scored on another jumper.
The Bears answered with a 5-0 surge of their own about a minute later with a Tyler McCullough tip-in and a 3-point bucket by Austin Ruder.
The Bears defense was stellar early on, as they held Illinois State without a field goal for the first 9:18. The Redbirds missed their first 10 shots before Lofton hit a jumper to chop MSU’s lead to 10-4.
Missouri State opened the game with an 8-1 run, holding the Redbirds to 0-4 from the field. After Gulley got things started with three free-throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt, Ruder converted a 3-pointer of his own and Thomas had MSU’s other two points on a nifty fast-break bucket off a pass from Gulley.
Tickets for Saturday’s Arch Madness semifinal matchup with Wichita State (32-0) are available at TicketMaster.com, or by phone at 800-745-3000.