Missouri State (16-14, 9-8 MVC) looks to snap a three-game losing streak and secure the No. 3 seed for next week’s State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament when it travels to Evansville this Saturday for a 1:05 p.m. game against the Purple Aces (14-14, 8-9). Six MVC teams are fighting for seeds 3-8 for Arch Madness, which begins Thursday. Of those teams, MSU is the only one that controls its own destiny and will secure the No. 3 seed with a victory over the Aces on Saturday. The 32 possible seeding scenarios include one that has the Bears finishing as low as the No. 8 seed and five that could put MSU as the No. 7 with a loss. The Bears are 8-5 on the road this season and are looking for a school-record ninth road victory. MSU has posted eight road victories eight previous times, most recently in 2006-07. On Jan. 15, Evansville scored an 87-82 overtime win over the Bears at JQH Arena, a game the Bears led by five points with 40 seconds left in regulation. (see box score on p. 3) The Bears lead the all-time series, 30-24, but are just 9-15 in Evansville with losses in four of their last five road trips there. This will be MSU’s first trip to the Ford Center (capacity 11,000), which opened this season. Evansville is 10-6 in its new facility.
Paul Lusk (Southern Illinois, 1995) is 16-14 (.533) in his first season at MSU and 18-37 (.327) in two years overall. He is 9-8 in MVC play (4-5 at home, 5-3 on the road), 8-7 at JQH Arena, 8-5 on the road, and 0-2 at neutral sites. He is 0-1 against Evansville (0-0 at Ford Center). Lusk is also 1-2 against Top 25 opponents. Lusk took the reigns as MSU’s 17th head coach on April 1, 2011. He came to Springfield after seven seasons at Purdue (2004-11), including the last three as associate head coach. Now in his 14th season in the coaching profession, Lusk has previous assistant coaching stops at Southwestern Illinois (1996-97), Missouri Southern (1999-2002) and Southern Illinois (2003-04) in addition to a one-year head coaching stint at (Div. III) Dubuque (2002-03). Lusk has coached in six of the last eight NCAA Tournaments after playing in three NCAA Tourneys as a player at SIU.
THE TEN COUNT:
Former MSU star Blake Ahearn (Reno Bighorns) will start for West All-Stars in Saturday’s NBA D-League All-Star Game. The game starts at 1 p.m. (Central) in New York. Ahearn was co-MVP of the 2009 D-League All-Star Game.
With their 56-54 win at Southern Illinois on Feb. 8, the Bears matched a club high-water mark for road victories in a season (8). MSU, which is 8-5 on the road this season (5-3 in MVC play) has won 8 road games eight previous times -- 1927-28, 1948-49, 1951-52, 1968-69, 1985-86, 1989-90, 2005-06, and 2006-07.
MSU is 6-2 in day games this season and 9-2 on Saturdays.
The Bears have committed 10 or fewer turnovers in seven of their last nine games and four in a row (6.8 during that span).
On Feb. 20, Anthony Downing (Jr., G, Atchison, Kan.) was named MVC Newcomer of the Week for the fourth time this season. In two games last week, he averaged a team-high 15.0 points per game while firing at an impressive 13-for-25 clip from the perimeter. He was 3-for-3 from three-point distance against No. 24 Wichita State on Feb. 15, helping establish himself as one of the league’s top-scoring juniors. Over the last three games, Downing is averaging 15.3 points and 5.3 rebounds and made 19-of-36 (.528) field goals with 11 assists. Downing has led MSU in scoring the last three conference games.
MSU has shot a higher free-throw percentage than 19 of its 30 opponents this year and is 15-4 when making a higher percentage at the line. Conversely, the Bears are 1-10 when their foes shoot a higher free-throw percentage.
Kyle Weems (Sr., F, Topeka, Kan.) is 4 assists shy of 200 for his career. He is on track to become MSU’s first player ever to record 800 rebounds and 200 assists.
Senior Isaiah Rhine (C, Versailles, Mo.) will play in his 50th career MVC game today, while Corey Copeland (So., G, Ft. Smith, Ark.) needs 1 game to give him 50 overall for his career.
Michale Bizoukas (Sr., G, Munster, Ind.) ranks 8th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.88) and 30th in assists (5.7), both tops in the MVC.
Kyle Weems (Sr., F, Topeka, Kan.) currently sits in fourth place on MSU’s career scoring list with 1,832 points. He trails only Daryel Garrison (1,975 - 143 points ahead of Weems), Curtis Perry (1,835 - 3) and Johnny Murdock (1,834 - 2). He also has 976 career points in 71 MVC games.
Despite scoring 3.9 points per game less than they did a year ago (and 5.5 fewer than they did in 2010-11), the Bears are giving up 0.8 points per game less than last season and rank second in the MVC in scoring defense.
Jarmar Gulley (Jr., G/F, Beaumont, Texas) has scored in double figures back-to-back games, averaging 14.5 points over the last two contests. He is tied with Caleb Patterson (Sr., C, Ames, Okla.) and Anthony Downing (Jr., G, Atchison, Kan.) for second place on the club (behind Weems, 28) with 17 double-figure scoring games.
The Bears are 11-2 this season when out-rebounding their opponents and 3-12 when their opponents collect more rebounds. MSU is also 2-0 when rebounding is equal.
On Feb. 17, Kyle Weems (Sr., F, Topeka, Kan.) was named as one of 25 finalists for the Lou Henson Award as the Mid-Major National Player of the Year. Fan voting is now live at www.VoteLouHenson.com.
The Bears have tallied double-figure offensive rebounds in three of their last four outings. During that span, MSU is averaging 10.8 offensive boards per game.
Since joining the MVC in 1990-91, the only other season, MSU has had a better road record in Valley play was 1995-96 when the Bears were 5-4 at home and 6-3 on the road
Evansville had a two-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday with a 93-92 overtime road loss at Creighton. UE star Colt Ryan (Jr., G/F, Batesville, Ind.) scored a career-high 43 points against Creighton, while Denver Holmes (Sr., G/F, Olathe, Kan.) added 25 points with both stars knocking down four three-pointers apiece. It was Evansville’s fifth overtime game (2-3) this season.
Ryan ranks 16th in the nation in scoring at 20.0 points per game and is also the team’s No. 3 rebounder (4.4). He has knocked down a team-high 66 three-pointers and is an 85-percent free throw shooter. Kenny Harris (Sr., G/F, St. Louis, Mo.) scores 10.8 points per game with 4.4 rebounds. Holmes scores 11.7 points per night and has a team-high 99 assists.
In his fifth season at his alma mater, Marty Simmons has three starters and 10 lettermen back from a 16-16 club that was 9-9 (6th) in the MVC last season. The Aces were 1-1 in the CBI last season and were picked fifth in the Valley preseason poll.