Forget the NCAA snubs, or the run to the NIT quarterfinals, or the 0-for-3 Valley tourney finals record. This moment, to me, crystallizes the Barry Hinson era at Missouri State University:
March 14, 2007. Missouri State hosts San Diego State in an NIT opening-round game. The Bears trailed 34-31 at the break, but Drew Richards opened the second half – as Hinson would say – runnin’ a fever. He scored six straight points and grabbed a defensive rebound…and was promptly subbed out of the game.
It was at that moment I turned to my brother and brother-in-law and said, “Why is Drew going out? He’s the only player that’s scored for us in the second half.” Some random stranger sitting in front of me turned around and said, “If you figure it out, would you please let the rest of us know?”
For all the things I liked about Barry Hinson, I never got his Xs and Os or his game management. The talent was always pretty good, because that cat could recruit, but his strange substitution patterns and inability to consistently put together good gameplans kept Missouri State Bears basketball from capitalizing on the Sweet 16 run of 1999. In this particular NIT game it was Nathan Bilyeu (whom I adore) that replaced Richards and managed a missed field goal, a turnover, and an offensive rebound before Richards returned to the floor 90 seconds later at the media timeout. The Bears led that game by six points with 7:26 to play, then fizzled down the stretch, getting outscored 20-10 and losing 74-70.
So I guess it was those kinds of failures that have conditioned me to not believe the hype about the 2010-11 Bears, now under the guidance of Cuonzo Martin. When the Bears fell behind to Creighton by 11 points early in the second half Jan. 3, I figured it was over. Maybe it’d end up a blowout, or maybe they’d rally, only to fall heartbreakingly short at the end. But this is Cuonzo Martin, not Barry Hinson, on the bench.
Martin pulled point guard Nafis Ricks off the floor, subbing in freshman swing player Nathan Scheer and moving sharpshooter Adam Leonard to the point. Over the next four minutes, a lineup of Leonard, Scheer, Will Creekmore, Jermaine Mallett and Kyle Weems battled the Bears back into the game. MO State outscored Creighton 15-9 and trailed just 42-40 when Ricks subbed back in for Leonard at the 13:34 mark.
That run put momentum squarely on the Bears’ side as they cruised to a 67-55 win in Omaha, a place where they had won just 3 times in 17 games (1-6 at Qwest Center), and it was the Scheer-for-Ricks sub that caught the eye of Creighton coach Greg McDermott. Dig this quote, given to the Omaha World-Herald.
“It took the one guy who really doesn’t shoot the 3-point shot off the floor and replaced him with Scheer. Now you’ve got Leonard, Scheer, Weems and Mallett standing on the perimeter. You’re worried about their shooters, and it was a good move by Coach Martin that we didn’t adjust to very well.”
And that, as I e-mailed to The High Road with Allen Vaughan yesterday, is why I’m aped about this Missouri State team. I can’t think of many games Hinson won – even though he had great talent – by out-coaching his counterpart. Not only is Martin showing he’s got serious chops as a bench coach, but his team has clearly adopted his even keel demeanor. The results so far have been very good, stealing two wins at the No. 3 and No. 4 pre-season teams in the Missouri Valley Conference and keeping MO State even with MVC fave Wichita State. Mighty MO State is now 11-3 overall, 3-0 in Valley play.
Speaking of which, Missouri State has a home game with Evansville – an Admiral Akbar game if I ever saw one – tomorrow night (Jan. 7) before visiting Wichita State Jan. 9. Barry Hinson’s Bears were 1-8 in their God forsaken gym. It’s time to end that streak.