ST. LOUIS --- For the first time in a decade and only the third time since Larry Bird departed campus, Indiana State will be dancing in March. The Sycamores defeated Missouri State 60-56 on Sunday to complete its surprising run through the MVC tournament and earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Led by its guard combo of Aaron Carter and Jake Odum, Indiana State was down three at halftime, after a sloppy first half that saw both teams struggle to execute their game plans. But Indiana State came out with defense on its mind in the second half,beginning the second half on an 8-0 run. Missouri State went until the 9:19 mark in the second half before it made its first field goal and the Sycamores were able to withstand a late Missouri State’s rally to get the win.
Having played three games in less than 48 hours, Indiana State came into the game hoping to shoot a high percentage and win with defense. The Sycamores accomplished the first by shooting an impressive 50% from the field, allowing them to overcome a significant size disadvantage and rebound differential on the glass. And defensively, Indiana State was able to limit the scoring opportunities of Missouri State’s big three, Kyle Weems, Adam Leonard and Jermaine Mallett, holding them to only 39 points on 8-25 shooting.
Still yet, Missouri State was able to remain in the game thanks to the striking disparity on the boards. The Bears’ 20 offensive rebounds, in contrast to Indiana State’s four, kept them within striking distance throughout their poor play in the second half. When Missouri State’s Adam Leonard drained a contested three to cut the margin to one with 27 seconds left, it looked as if the Bears might yet be able to once again overcome their poor play with timely late shooting heroics.
After Indiana State’s Jake Odum made one of two free throws, the Bears took over for a final possession to tie or win the game. With six seconds remaining, the ball was inbounded to Missouri Valley Player of the Year, Kyle Weems, whose game winner earlier in the tournament against Southern Illinois sent the Bears to the semifinals. Indiana State quickly double teamed, forcing him to pass to conference tournament MVP Jermaine Mallett. After a quick first step to the basket, the ball slipped from Mallett’s hands rolling out of bounds and handing Indiana State the victory.
Missouri State never looked completely in sync at any point in St. Louis. From the outset, the Bears were unable to execute with their normal offensive efficiency, and won primarily via a desperation to end the school’s NCAA drought. The Bears were fortunate to win their first game against Southern Illinois, overcoming a nine point deficit in the game’s last three minutes, and never were able to regain their regular season form. Each game featured impressive late comebacks designed to overcome large second half deficits, but on Sunday, their fortune finally ran out. The regular season MVC champion, which has been perpetually on the bubble in recent years, likely does not have a strong enough resume to get into the big dance and will probably once again have to settle for a disappointing NIT bid on Selection Sunday.
As for Indiana State, the NCAA Tournament now awaits for a program that hasn’t been invited in nearly a decade. Just three years removed from a 20 loss season and one summer from having its head coach leave the program to become an assistant at Oregon, the Sycamores are now dancing. First year coach Greg Lansing says his team is “made of the right stuff” and their path, which featured a buzzer beating win and victories over the top two teams in the conference proves their mettle. They now head to the NCAA Tournament, hoping to recreate the glory of the past with a tough, young team ready to make history of its own.
Posted by MATT JONES
Coach Greg Lansing on the victory:
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