Hammons rafters roar one final time; Bears bounce No. 20 Drake, 86-83
In the 32-year, 494-game history of Missouri State Bears’ basketball in Hammons Student Center, no moment meant more than the perfect ending to Tuesday night’s MSU 86-83 Missouri Valley Conference victory over the 20th-ranked and newly-crowned 2008 MVC champion Drake Bulldogs.
Bears’ forward Deven Mitchell, one of the most gifted and courageous student-athletes ever play in Hammons, soared above his blue-shirted Drake opponents to intercept the Bulldogs’ halfcourt inbounds pass and snuff the visitors’ final bid to catch the fired-up Bears.
Missouri State’s victory in the Bears’ final game ever in Hammons had three other notable footnotes. Mitchell and his four senior mates, playing in their last Missouri State home game, chalked up a Bears’ victory on Senior Night for the 19th year in a row. The beleaguered Bears recorded their first two-game win streak in more than two months as they got back to .500 for the season at 15-15 and stayed in the chase for the program’s seventh straight winning season. And, Drake became the highest-ranked opponent a Bears’ team has ever beaten on the Hammons floor.
Bears’ head coach Barry Hinson started his five seniors in the contest, and, with Dex Manswell’s tipin for the opening basket of the game, the seniors combined for 55 points and 27 rebounds. The Bear seniors and their mates fed off the frenzied energy of a season-high crowd of 7,507; a crowd which was on its feet the entire night.
"I made it a point to salute the fans like I always do," Mitchell said after the game. "I’m just a soldier. We’re all soldiers and it was important for us to win this one for these fans for how much they mean to all of us."
"This one was special," Hinson added. "It was special for our entire University, and also for our fans for the tremendous way they’ve supported this program in the 32 years the Bears have played in Hammons Student Center."
The determined Bulldogs battled throughout to match the Bears’ enthusiasm and came back from a 66-49 deficit with 8:27 to play and almost pulled even in the game. A barrage of six three-pointers from five different Bulldogs over a span of six minutes got Drake within 77-73 and a chance for a tie with 2:18 left. Leonard Houston banged in a layup to reach that score and Mitchell was whistled for an intentional foul on the play. With two free throws and possession of the ball, the Bulldogs had a deadlock in their sights. But Houston missed both throws and the Bears followed with a stop.
The teams traded points until it was 85-81 in the final minute. Drake’s Adam Emmenecker scored at the 33-second mark and the Bears’ Justin Fuehrmeyer hit one of two free throws with 26 seconds remaining to make it 86-83. The Bears got another stop and the ball and Dale Lamberth was fouled with two seconds left and a chance to ice the win. Lamberth missed both free throws and Drake called time out to set up a play; a play that resulted in Mitchell’s winning pass theft.
Feeding off the crowd, the hot-shooting Bears raced out to a 13-point lead at 32-19, but Drake roared back to within two at the half, 38-36. The Bears broke from a 40-40 tie a minute into the second half with an 8-0 run and a lead they eventually built to 17 points before the Bulldogs began their comeback.
Hitting .643 (9/14) from three-point range fueled the Bears’ .596 (34/57) sizzling shooting night and barely offset a .450 (9/20) effort from the foul line. Drake sent up 38 three-point tries and hit a dozen of them as the Bulldogs were at .432 (32/74) from the field for the game. The Bears enjoyed a 39-34 rebound margin.
Mitchell, plagued with chronic, painful injuries throughout his career before coming back to lead the Bears in scoring as a fifth-year senior, sparkled at 8-of-13 from the floor and led all scorers with 20 points while picking off seven rebounds. Lamberth had 16 points and eight rebounds, Fuehrmeyer got 14 points and handed out six assists, Chris Cooks had 11 points and six assists and Drew Richards blocked five shots. Balanced Drake got 18 points from Josh Young, 17 each from Houston and Jonathan Cox and 16 from Klayton Korver.
The Bears climbed to 7-10 in league play while dropping Drake to 14-3. The MVC champion Bulldogs still enjoy a three-game league lead with one conference game left and are now 24-4 overall.
Tuesday’s win brought Missouri State’s final record for 32 seasons in Hammons to 391-103 (.791). The final night crowd lifted the 1976-2008 Bears’ home attendance in HSC to 3,132,619 fans.
The Bears hit the road to close their MVC and regular season schedules Saturday (Mar. 1) when they visit Terre Haute, Ind., to take on the Indiana State Sycamores. Tipoff is 6:05 p.m. (CST).