Bears trim Wichita State to reach MVC semifinals
The Missouri State Bears shook off the challenge of a season-best 13 three-point baskets by the Wichita State Shockers and got a big bucket from Tyler Chaney and five key free throws down the stretch to subdue the Shockers 67-64 Friday night at Scottrade Center in St. Louis and advance to the semifinals of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
The third-seeded Bears will take on the second-seeded Creighton Bluejays Saturday in the tournament’s second semifinal test at 4 p.m. Saturday at Scottrade. Top-seeded Southern Illinois and fourth-seeded Bradley will meet in the first semifinal matchup as the top four seeds prevailed in the quarterfinal round Friday.
The Bears will bid to beat Creighton after losing twice to the Bluejays in the regular league season. Missouri State’s win Friday gave the Bears a 3-0 season sweep over a league school for the first time since a sweep of Evansville in 2003 and against Wichita State for the first time since 1993. The Bears are now 4-0 against the Shockers in MVC tourney play as Missouri State’s third win in a row overall moved the Bears to 22-9 for the season while Wichita State slipped to 17-14 as the Shockers closed with five straight losses.
Missouri State’s win puts the Bears into the meet semifinals for the 10th time in the past 12 years in St. Louis.
A long three-pointer by Nathan Bilyeu as the shot clock was running out pushed the Bears into their biggest lead of the night at 58-50 with 7:17 to play. Three-pointers by Matt Braeuer and Karon Bradley that sandwiched a 10-2 WSU run that pulled the Shockers even at 60-60 with 4:46 to play.
Two free throws by Blake Ahearn with 3:19 to play and a pair by Deven Mitchell with 2:30 left made it 64-60. After WSU’s Braeuer hit one of two free throws at 1:40, Chaney got loose for a layup with 1:07 to play that pushed the lead to 66-61. Wichita State answered with a trey from the left corner by Karon Bradley at the 51-second mark to slice it to two. The Bears ran the clock down and Bilyeu pulled down a rebound from a Chaney miss and was fouled on the putback try. He hit the second of two free throws with 15 seconds left and Braeuer’s three just ahead of the buzzer was off the mark.
Wichita State hit .481 (13/27) from three-point range for the game and knocked in 8-of-15 in the first half but the Bears refused to blink. Braeuer’s first two fired WSU to an early 7-0 lead but Deven Mitchell came off the bench to ignite the Bears into a 14-10 lead midway through the half. WSU went downtown again and took charge at 25-18 with a 10-0 run with six minutes left in the half but Missouri State dug deep again and pulled into a 29-29 tie three minutes before halftime. The Shockers grabbed a 34-32 edge at intermission.
The game see-sawed through the first 10 minutes of the second half before Braeuer struck from downtown again to give the Shockers their last lead at 48-47 with 10:22 to play. Threes by Ahearn and Bilyeu, a layup by Chaney and Bilyeu’s long three gave the Bears an 11-2 run and 58-50 lead before the Shockers brought it back to set up the stretch run.
In all, the game was tied seven times and the lead changed hands five times as the Bears had a 27-9 scoring edge from their bench, fueled by Mitchell’s 16 points. Ahearn scored 12, Chaney had 11, Bilyeu got nine and Drew Richards scored eight as the Bears were again balanced on offense. Missouri State finished at .439 (25/57) from the floor, connecting on just 6-of-17 three-point tries. Braeuer with 18 and P.J. Couisnard with 17 led Wichita State scoring.
Led by eight boards each from Bilyeu and Mitchell, Missouri State had a 34-32 rebound advantage. After making a 20-year low four turnovers in winning at Wichita State Feb. 20, the Bears had just seven miscues Friday night. Missouri State came up with 10 steals and Richards had three of the Bears’ four shot blocks in the contest.