Martin shows emotional side after Mighty MO State rallies past Creighton

Missouri State coach Cuonzo Martin shows a rare burst of emotion after his Bears erased a big deficit to knock off Creighton.

We’ve been duped. Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin isn’t some sort of basketball coach robot, skilled in the Xs and Os but unable to feel – or show – any emotion. Martin, described as “steely” and “even-keeled” by Tag SGF’s Allen Vaughan left his emotions all over the floor of JQH Arena for everyone to see after Mighty MO State rallied from 15 down to earn in improbably, last-second, 67-66 win over Creighton Jan. 22.

Martin exuberantly slapped high-fives with Creighton’s players in the post-game handshake line, then turned to exhort the crowd to make even more noise – if that was possible for the raucous crew of 10,655. The display of pure joy continued as Martin and his assistants crossed the court and headed to the locker room, captured epically in KSPR’s highlight package.

So who was that man with his emotions on his sleeve? Not the Cuonzo Martin we know, right?

“Coach Martin is probably the most passionate person about something that I’ve ever met in my life,” Missouri State junior Kyle Weems said in the post-game press conference. “I’m pretty sure that he was pretty happy.”

Weems, it would appear, is both a frontrunner for Player of the Year and Understater of the Year. Martin finally came clean in that same presser, saying:

“I’m always emotional in practice, but in game situations it’s about our guys performing. This time it just came out.”

Did it ever. Do yourself a favor and make sure to watch KSPR’s highlights so you can see this hand-waving ball of joy. Then go back and take a look at Martin’s demeanor and decision making during the game. It’s clear that Martin is more than just words. The emotions were in check and it was all about the Bears performing. And perform they did.

Missouri State held Creighton to just two baskets in its final 11 possessions and chipped away at a 15-point, second half deficit. Weems came up with the final clutch offensive play, outsmarting a pair of Bluejays on the left baseline to earn an uncontested lay-up for the winning points. Weems and point guard Nafis Ricks flipped the script on Creighton, as Weems faked a drop step like he was backing up for a lob, then darted towards the basket to get the ball from Ricks.

“They had been sitting a guy in front of me all night, and I thought they would sit McDermott behind me, but they didn’t,” Weems said. “I gave Nafis the look like, ‘I think they’re both going to run with me if I take a step back.’ They did and I just made a basketball play. Nafis made a perfect pass.”

Senior Jermaine Mallett then sealed the deal, poking the ball away from Creighton’s Antoine Young at halfcourt, then diving on the ball and shuffling it back inbounds, where Adam Leonard scooped it up and dribbled out the clock. That play involved a spot of shrewd coaching that didn’t go unnoticed by ESPN commentator Dan Dakich, who said “This was a great move by Cuonzo Martin, putting Mallett on Young. Changed the defensive outlook.”

That Weems and Mallett were even in position to make those plays is no small miracle. The Bears could’ve easily folded after they fell behind by 15 points early in the second half, especially after Wednesday’s heartbreaker at Indiana State. But they didn’t, thanks to the steely, even-keel Martin fans have grown to know and love.

“I kept telling our guys, ‘Let’s walk ourselves back into this game,’’’ Martin said. “I kept telling them that we’re fine. We just needed to get stops. We do a great job of getting stops when we have to. This is what happens when you’re fighting for that championship spot. You have to find a way to make plays. We found enough plays and got enough stops to win the game.’’

And there’s no doubt that the Bears have the calm version of Cuonzo Martin to direct them in game situations as they chase the first regular-season Missouri Valley Conference championship for the school, as well as a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

“Missouri State, probably (has) no business winning this game, but they never flinched,” said Dakich on the broadcast. “Cuonzo Martin kept it cool on the sideline.”

Cool, at least, until the final horn.


Required Reading:

Bears save best for last in dramatic win over Creighton  (Springfield News-Leader)

Clark: Bears’ find-a-way resolve put on display (Springfield News-Leader)

Bluejays fall to Bears in final seconds (Omaha World-Herald)

Notes: No comfort for Jays in JQH Arena. (Omaha World-Herald)

Highlight video, as Tweeted by @BillyJansen


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