Friday Soundtrack, or Fight for vict’ry

It’s Game Day.

Arch Madness – the Missouri Valley Conference’s men’s basketball tournament – tipped off last night in St. Louis and Missouri State joins the fray today, at noon, playing Southern Illinois for the right to advance to the semifinals.

That’s the inspiration for this week’s Friday Soundtrack. The song is best known as the “Missouri State Fight Song,” but it’s actual name is “The Scotsman.” It’s history was discussed in this thread over at MSU Bear Nation. Mighty MO State is the only school to use “The Scotsman” as its fight song, though my alma mater shares the song with Utah State University. That school’s Wiki page claims “The popular Scotsman song was composed by student Ebenezer J. Kirkham, class of 1918, though a similar song had been used by other colleges for at least a decade.” USU’s version of The Scotsman is arranged differently than MSU’s, and the Aggies use it as a supplemental song, not their primary fight song.

MSU’s version, meanwhile, was officially adopted in 1960, though it was likely used unofficially used prior to that, and the lyrics have evolved along with the name of the school.

That part kind of disappoints me. The original version has a charm to it and I like it better than what we sing right now. Today’s version involves too much spelling, in my opinion. I might be in the minority on this one. I’ve posted the original lyrics – which could be updated a little bit to say something like “True-hearted Bear from Missouri” – so you can make up your own mind.

LET’S GO BEARS!

–QCFM

“The Scotsman”

Show me the Scotsman
Who doesn’t love the thistle,
Show me the Englishman
Who doesn’t love the rose,
Show me the true-
Hearted man of Springfield,
Who doesn’t love the sport.

B-E-A-R-S, BEARS!

Way down where the
Ozarks zephyrs blow.

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Mighty MO State Football Recruits, snOMG Class of 2011

Mighty MO StateThe Springfield News-Leader’s Lyndal Scranton reported the #snOMG-delayed Missouri State football recruiting class is 17 deep so far, with coach Terry Allen expecting to add a handful more, once schools are able to dig out and get back in session. Here’s what we know so far about the future Bears of Mighty MO State.

Note: This list will be updated when necessary. Missouri State has received LOIs from 21 recruits. They expect to sign a total of 24.

Offense

All-American left tackle David Arkin is gone to graduation, as are center Erik Dahl, right guard Bob Shapel and right tackle Jake Duron. It should come as no surprise, then, that Allen has inked six offensive linemen so far, including a pair of junior college transfers. There are also big shoes to fill at quarterback – though Trevor Wooden is the heir apparent to Cody Kirby – and tight end, though the Bears are set at wide receiver and running back. Offensive signees are:

Charleston Antwine, OL (6-foot 4, 290; Wake Village, Texas; Texas High): Be sure to watch this right tackle’s highlight video. He’s listed there at 6-foot-6, 300, and he can motor (claims of a 5.0 in the 40). Several times on the video you can see him finishing a block at the line of scrimmage, then moving to the next level in pursuit of a block. Antwine was a second team all-district selection in 2010 and led his team in pancake blocks.

Robert Booker, OL (6-foot-2, 290; Ozark, MO; Ozark High): A familiar name to local football fans, Booker was a key member of Ozarks’ line in their wing-T offense. Booker was named all-Central Ozark Conference-Large Second Team and Third Team All-State by the Missouri Football Coaches Association last fall. He also earned Academic All-State honors. How brains-and-brawn is he? The News-Leader reported last fall that nearly all Ivy League schools had inquired about his availability.

Richard Darden, TE (6-foot-4, 220; Memphis, Tenn.; Ridgeway High): There’s a lot to like about Darden, including a big frame and good hands. The first clip on his highlight video is a jaw-dropper, as he catches a pass, fights his way out of a quadruple-team tackle, then sprints 65 yards for a touchdown. Wow. He’s also a basketball player, so he’s clearly an athletic get for Allen and the Bears. Ridgeway went 10-0 in the regular season and finished 13-1 in Darden’s only year of varsity football. He was selected for the 2010 Liberty Bowl High School All-Star Game. Darden has a great pedigree, as both his father and grandfather have played FCS football and earned all-America honors, for Austin Peay and Tennessee State respectively.

Emerson DePeel, OL (6-foot-4, 300; Bentonville, Ark.; Bentonville High): DePeel is a Class 7A all-stater, who chose MSU over Pittsburg State and Southwest Baptist. His Bentonville teams were two-time state champions. DePeel also excels on the mat, earning all-state honors in wrestling.

Robert Fields, WR (6-foot-1, 189; Memphis, Tenn.; Memphis East High): The first two plays on Fields’ highlight reel show great elusiveness and speed, as he takes a bubble screen between the hashes for a long touchdown, then uses great speed -and a well-placed stiff-arm – for what appears to be at least a 98-yard TD catch-and-carry. Fields looks taller than 6-foot-1 on tape. He’s lanky and does a good job stretching to haul in some high passes on tape. Fields caught 40 passes for 705 yards and 11 TDs in his senior season. Scout lists him an inch taller and he apparently drew interest from some SEC schools (Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi) as well as Memphis. Interesting note: A Story in the Commercial Appeal claims he was part of a quarterback rotation at Memphis East.

Kierra Harris, QB (5-foot-11, 190; Texarkana, Ark.; Arkansas High): I would’ve loved to found some video on Harris, who lacks in size but could be a great athlete at the quarterback position (he also plays basketball at Arkansas High), as at least one report referred to him as a threat with his arm and his feet.  Harris earned the all-Southwest Arkansas Offensive Player of the Year award and was a two-time Arkansas Class 6A All-State selection. He threw for 2,238 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior and rushed for 959 yards and 12 scores. His career totals were 5,500 passing and 1,500 rushing yards.

Ryan Heaston, RB (5-foot-11, 175; Cordova, Ten..; Cordova High): This is an intriguing sign for MSU. Heaston logged time at running back and wide receiver, and was a return specialist for Cordova (Missouri State also considers him a potential defensive back). His on-the-field stats are great: 146 carries for 1,264 yards and 15 TDs; 11 catches for 237 yards and a TD; eight kickoff returns for 261 yards; six punt returns for 215 yards and a touchdown. Those stats earned him the Old Spice Red Zone Player of the Year award for the state of Tennessee. He was selected from over 2,000 players in the state for that award. Heaston was also selected for the Tennessee East-West All-Star Game, where he was a team captain. Heaston wows off the field, too, winning the Liberty Bowl/FCA John “Bull” Bramlett Award, given annually to the Memphis/Shelby County are football player who”exemplifies academic excellence, outstanding on-field performance, community service and Christian character and values on and off the field.” Heaston is a junior deacon at Oak Grove Baptist Church, usher and choir member. He’s also involved with FCA, Bridge Builders and Youth United Way and is a two-time state champion in three different track events. Wow. He’s also an all-state track performer in events including the 200- and 400-yard dashes.

Maddy Johnson, RB (5-foot-8, 165; Webb City, Mo.; Webb City High): Johnson is a player I had the privilege to see in person, and I can tell you that he impresses with his toughness as much as his speed (4.37 in the 40). Those qualities helped him gain 1,800 rushing yards and score 35 TDs as a senior. Johnson was the COC-Large Offensive Player of the Year and was named First Team All-State by the Missouri Sportscasters and Sportswriters as Webb City went 15-0 and won another state championship.

Jake Lasater, OT (6-foot-6, 300; St. Charles, Mo.; Francis Howell High): Another big-bodied lineman, highlight video shows Lasater lined up at right tackle. I loved watching this kid move his feet and run block on plays to his side. Lasater’s award sheet includes First Team all-Gateway Athletic Conference, First Team MSSA All-District and Second Team Class 6 All-State (Missouri Sportscasters & Sportswriters).

Patrick Morse, OL (6-foot-4, 275; Springdale, Ark.; Springdale High): Morse was part of a stellar group of linemen at Springdale. How good? Three of his linemates also signed Letters of Intent, to Arkansas, Arkansas-Monticello and Tulsa. Morse was named a 2011 Arkansas All-Star. Fitness shouldn’t be an issue for Morse. He played every snap for Springdale.

Randy Richards, OL (6-foot-5, 300; Royal Palm Beach, Fla.; Royal Palm Beach High; College of Sequoias): Richards comes to Missouri State from Royal Palm Beach (FL) High, by way of College of Sequoias…fitting for a man of Richards’ size. There’s an interesting trail on Richards, who apparently committed to Florida Atlantic (perhaps out of high school), but did not enroll there. He then committed to Marshall last February, but didn’t play there either. New  Mexico State also expressed interest in him. My best guess is he’d have two years of eligibility at MSU. Clearly has the size and talent to draw interest from I-A schools. Clearly he fills a need for MSU. Will he play here?

Clay Spruill, OL (6-foot-5, 300; Mt. Pleasant, Texas; Mt. Pleasant High; Tyler Junior College): Another 6-foot-5, 300-pounder, he comes from Mt. Pleasant, Texas, by way of Tyler Junior College. Spruill was named 1st Team All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference this past season. He has played right tackle – another area of need – in the past. I wasn’t able to get confirmation on what position he played in 2010.

Defense

This was a senior-laden group for Missouri State in 2010, with seven seniors starting in the regular-season finale. The Bears must replace a pair of defensive ends, three linebackers, and both safeties. There are lots of holes to fill, meaning lots of opportunities. There’s just one JuCo on this side of the ball, and he should have a chance to play immediately.

Dondelaro Crosby, LB (5-foot-11, 200; Leesburg, Fla.; Leesburg High): Small in size for a linebacker, though not a lot smaller than Nick Canavan, who made quite an impact as a freshman for MSU in 2010. Crosby was another player I couldn’t find much on, though the former sprinter recorded 120 tackles, three interceptions, nine tackles and four forced fumbles. He could play inside or outside for the Bears.

Nate Davis, LB (6-foot-2, 215; Liberal, Kan.; Liberal High; Garden City CC): Another fun highlight video to watch. Davis appears to have good speed and the ability to shed blocks and get to the ballcarrier. I’m particularly fond of the play that starts at about the 2:38 mark, where he submarines a blocker and – with the blocker on top of him – makes a tackle. Davis, a KJCCC Honorable Mention selection, picked Missouri State over Southern Illinois, thanks in part to his future position coach, Wayne Chambers. “He played at Oklahoma for four years, he’s coached a few years and that to me showed that he knew what he was doing and would bring a lot to the table,” Davis told The Garden City Telegram.

Corey Feagin, DE (6-foot-3, 230; Cedar Hill, Texas; Cedar Hill High): I couldn’t find much on Feagin, other than he was Honorable Mention in District 5-5A and drew some interest from FBS schools Syracuse, TCU and Texas Tech.

Josh Hampton, DL (6-foot-4, 265; Benton, Ark.; Bryant High): One thing my research on Hampton showed me was that this cat won’t smile for a picture – and he got a lot of them taken after a great senior year. He was a finalist for the State Farm Award for defense in Class 6A/7A after he was the leading tackler for Bryant High. He also played some offensive line, fullback and tight end, leading the WarHawk Report to name him a “Natural State Player to Watch” at tight end. Another page credited his athleticism as a reason he projects to a couple of different positions. Hampton finished last season with 104 tackles, 12 for loss, five sacks and seven pass break-ups. He has 4.7 speed.

Christian Hoffman, LB (6-foot-1, 210, Webb City, Mo.; Webb City High): MSU also lands the COC-Large Defensive Player of the Year, in Hoffman – also an all-state selection for the state-champion Cardinals. Hoffman recorded 125 tackles, including a pair of sacks, last season, while forcing three fumbles.

Rufus Sullivan, OLB/DE (6-foot-3, 215; Lebanon, Mo.; Lebanon High): Another local signee for Allen and I’m intrigued to see where he ends up playing. He’s got good height, but 215 seems a bit light for a defensive end. Sullivan was all-everything last season, as he averaged 8 tackles and 1 sack per game.

Bernard Thomas, DB (5-foot-11, 172; Blue Springs, Mo.; Blue Springs High): This is an interesting get for the Bears. Thomas’ play apparently earned him an offer from Kansas. Thomas, ,who runs a 4.4 40 and has a 35-inch vertical, visited Missouri, went to Arkansas on junior day, and took unofficial visits to Colorado and Oklahoma. His Rivals page claims offers from Arkansas, Kansas State, and Tulsa. Hopefully his time at MSU lives up to the high-level attention he got. Thomas was named First Team Suburban All-Big 6 and First Team AP All-State.

Jordan White, DL (6-foot-6, 280; Alma, Ark.; Alma High): Boasting 4.9 speed, White earned Class 5A all-conference and all-state honors for the Airedales of Alma. White is also an all-stater in track

Combo

Eric Christophel, WR/DB (5-foot-10, 170; Nixa, Mo.; Nixa High): Full disclosure: I’m a Christophel fan. I covered him as a high school junior and senior at Nixa and love the kid. His father, Rob, is the Bears’ offensive coordinator. In my biased opinion, Christo has a great motor and fiery competitive drive that will give him a chance to contribute at MSU…somewhere. A second-team all-COC selection as a wide receiver, Christophel is really a utility player – you can plug him in on offense, defense, or special teams. He caught 14 passes for 330 yards and five TDs for the Eagles last fall, while totaling 700 return yards and picking off three passes.

–QCFM

Who were those Bears?

Guh!

This photo, courtesy of the Evansville Courier-Press, pretty much somes it up, right?

I’ve mellowed a bit in my 30s. I don’t get as worked up about my favorite teams as I used to (though I still really don’t like Wichita State). That said, I’m incredibly bummed about Mighty MO State’s 77-65 loss at Evansville Feb. 2.

This was the bad loss that the Bears had to avoid. All the good Karma they built up during the regular season is likely gone. Yeah, they snapped UNI’s homecourt winning streak, then went into the Roundhouse and knocked off the Shockers. Good things. But how could any Bears fan win a “What has MSU done to deserve an at-large bid?” argument with this loss at UE. I don’t care that the Purple Aces have now won four in a row. This is a game that Valley-championship, NCAA-caliber teams need to win.

But what’s really frustrating about the loss is that I didn’t recognize these Bears. Maybe that was because I had to watch it out of the corner of my eye while attending to a sick toddler, but a couple of things popped out at me as out of character:

1. Turnovers. Taking care of the ball has been a crucial part of Missouri State’s success. They coughed it up an above-average 15 times to UE, including some unforced errors (one was a traveling call in the lane that wiped off a bucket). The Aces made good use of those miscues, scoring 22 points off turnovers.

2. Weems Drought. Yes, the Valley Player of the Year in waiting finished with 16 points and 10 boards. That’s to be expected. The unexpected was his silence over the game’s final 16 minutes. He is Mr. Clutch for the Bears. They need him.

3. O-for-Leonard. For the first time in 38 games Adam Leonard failed to make a 3-pointer. Okay, whatever. That happens. People have off nights. What hurts is he was 0-for-3 from inside the arc and failed to get to the foul line. Leonard is a good ballplayer and a key offensive cog. When it’s not happening from the perimeter, he’s got to find a way to contribute somehow, and the foul line is a good place for him to do that. Oh, and he also fouled out.

4. Defense? The 77 points UE scored is the second-highest total allowed by MSU all season, second only to the 84 Oklahoma State posted in early December. What’s more troubling, though, is how they got them. The Aces scored 30 points in the paint in the first half alone. There are only 20 minutes in a half, so they scored more than a point in the paint per minute in the first half. The finished the night with 42, more than half of their offensive output. While the Bears were heaving up well-contested looks in the second half, the Aces were consistently getting good looks at the rim. Unacceptable for a team that prides itself on defense.

It’s even more unacceptable when you realize the Aces’ own Dunking Dutchman, Pieter van Tongeren, is the only player on the UE roster listed above 6-foot-9. MO State has three of them, in Will Creekmore (6-foot-9), Isaiah Rhine (6-foot-10) and Caleb Patterson (6-foot-11). There’s no way the Bears should get outscored 42-20 in the paint.

Missouri State is now up against it if they want to win the regular season Missouri Valley Conference championship – something Bears’ play-by-play legend Art Haines feels will be enough to get an at-large bid. The Bears must win out now, including a win over Wichita State on the final night of the regular season.

If the Bears can do that, they will either be tied with the Shockers or Northern Iowa for the regular season title (WSU and UNI square off in Frostbite Falls Feb. 12). Mighty MO State, with the sweep, would hold the hammer against the Shockers. If UNI is even with the Bears, then it goes to a comparison of non-conference schedule strength as calculated by The RPI Report. That may not end up well for the Bears.

But that’s getting ahead of things a bit. Missouri State needs to get its swagger back. They need to rediscover the identity that had them sitting pretty in first place just days ago. Of course, MSU coach Cuonzo Martin is way ahead of me, telling Haines on his post-game radio show that the Bears need to “get back to the basics.”

“It’s that simple,” said Martin. “Just doing what we need to do to be successful. It’s not so much getting caught up in ‘let’s win a Valley championship,’ but just playing the way we’re capable of playing, and then the championships will come.”

Mighty MO State is back home Saturday, Feb. 5, to host Indiana State. Tipoff is 2:05 p.m.

–QCFM

Required Reading

Loss to Evansville drops Bears into second place in MVC (Springfield News-Leader)

Aces hit their stride, stun Missouri State 77-65 (Evansville Courier-Press)

Is close the new normal for Missouri State?

Will Creekmore

It's going to take heroics like those shown by senior post Will Creekmore for Missouri State to wrap up a conference championship. There are no cakewalks in the Valley.

It’s been a couple of days now, but I wanted to share some thoughts on Missouri State’s close shave at Drake. The Bears – tell me if this sounds familiar – struggled, and actually trailed a good portion of the game, before rallying to win. The final score was 73-70.

Not the result a lot of people expected considering Drake entered the game 3-6 in Missouri Valley Conference play. But the Bulldogs were scrappy, fed their hot hands and found ways to stay in the game.

Get used to it, Bears fans. This is the new normal.

Conference play is By Any Means Necessary time, and the Valley is no different. In fact, the Valley is even tougher, considering its conference tournament is one of the first played each year. That means the teams pack 18 league games into just a couple of months. Missouri State will play its slate in just 60 days, averaging a league game every 3.3 days. The Bears have four days off between the win at Drake and a home game with defending Valley champ Northern Iowa, their biggest break since they had six days off between games with Arkansas State and UNI in December.

It’s a grind, and everyone is subjected to the same schedule. Winning down the stretch is just as much about grit and determination as it is talent. The Bears are now 4-1 in Valley games decided by 3 points or less, a testament to their grit.

There’s also the bulls-eye factor. Missouri State is in first place. They’re getting Top 25 votes. They’re being mentioned as a potential at-large team. They are the team to beat. Nobody in the Valley will hit the floor in awe of the Bears and they will all step it up a notch to try and beat the league leaders.

One more thing that will play a role down the stretch is something I haven’t heard much in the local media: There are no secrets at this point in the season. This is what happens in conference play: I know what you’re gonna do, you know what I’m gonna do, so let’s go see who does it better. There are no surprises right now. Opponents have a scouting report on every Bear – even the freshman – by now and know how they like to shoot, catch, dribble, defend, etc. Like Chuck D of Public Enemy said, “It’s not a matter of skills, but a battle of wills.”

The win is the thing from now on for Missouri State. Be it three points or 30, they just need the W.

The Homestretch

Mighty MO State is closing in on its first-ever Valley regular season title, still leading second place Wichita State by one game with eight to play. Indiana State has faltered recently, losing at WSU in multiple OTs before letting a big lead slip away in a home loss to Evansville. The Trees are now two games back, as is always-dangerous Northern Iowa. Here’s a look at the contenders and what they have left.

1. Missouri State (9-1): The Bears still have schedule on their side. MO State plays five of its last eight league games at home, with trips to Evansville (5-5), Illinois State (2-8) and Southern Illinois (4-6) remaining. That’s not a UNI-WSU-CU swing by any stretch of the imagination, but there are also no nights off. MSU is in the enviable position of controlling its own destiny. All they need to do is win.

2. Wichita State (8-2): It’s been pointed out that the Shockers, the preseason Valley favorite, may have lost some of their edge at home. WSU is perfect on the road in league play, but lost to both MO State and UNI in The Roundhouse and needed triple overtime to stop Indiana State. WSU has four home games and four road games left, including trips to UNI, Indiana State, and Missouri State. In other words, the Shockers can help themselves on the court.

3. Indiana State (7-3): Is the magic starting to fade for the Sycamores? They gave the Shockers all they wanted before finally succumbing, but followed that up with a puzzling home loss to Evansville. The Sycamores need a win – fast – or their momentum might be gone. Easier said then done. The Sycs have five road games left to play, visiting Creighton, Illinois State, Missouri State, Southern Illinois and UNI. They also have a visit from Wichita State so they, like the Shockers, can help themselves in the race for first place.

4. Northern Iowa (7-3): The Panthers worry me as much as any of these other teams (and I would throw Southern Illinois into that group). The Panthers have toiled quietly in the shadow of Indiana State’s hot start and, after a 1-3 start, have won six straight league games. True, four of those games were at home, but they got a great road win at Wichita State. The Panthers are well coached and talented, and their game this Sunday, Jan. 30, at Missouri State could be epic. A win for Mighty MO State puts them on step closer to wrapping up the title. A loss? Then it’s Katy Bar the Door.

–QCFM

Okay, that one stung a little bit

Indiana State courtstormers

This didn't seem silly at all. Who doesn't storm the court after beating an unranked team in January?

It had to happen eventually, and this was a pretty crummy way to go. In some ways I prefer a loss by 10 points than one like Missouri State suffered at Indiana State to break the Bears’ nine-game winning streak.

I’ll save my dissertation on “A foul is a foul is a foul” for a later post. Instead, let’s just spin this loss for a bit.

Spin 1: That’s probably the best place for a road loss. There are no “good” losses for MO State as far as an NCAA at-large resume goes, but if they were going to stub there to somewhere, this might have been the best place. Indiana State’s overall record isn’t good, but they’re off to a hot start in Valley play and are unbeaten at home. Not too shabby…and definitely a lot less shabby than having tripped up at Drake (8-11, 3-5), Evansville (9-9, 3-5), or Illinois State (8-11, 0-8). There’s still a trip to Southern Illinois on the schedule (10-9, 4-4), which is the second best place for a road loss.

Spin 2: Ha ha ha, Wichita State! The Shockers, the preseason Valley fave, have now lost two at home and are still a game back of the Bears (and now, Indiana State). WSU’s title hopes have taken a big hit now, as has their hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Spin 3: Mighty MO State is still in awesome shape. Yep, still tops in the Valley – though now tied – almost to the halfway mark. MSU survived a brutal early-season Valley schedule with a 7-1 record, and if you’re a Bears fan you should be ecstatic about that. One loss? Really? With trips to UNI, Wichita, Creighton, and Indiana State? Boss. The schedule is a lot less daunting from here on out. They don’t play a single road game against a team with a winning Valley record (though SIU might be there come Feb. 23) and they get six of their last 10 league games at home.

Things aren’t so awesome for Indiana State and Wichita State. The Sycamores must visit JQH Arena for a rematch with the Bears and still have to visit WSU, Creighton and SIU. They only play four of their last 10 Valley games at home. The Shockers, meanwhile, have one game to make up and still have to visit MO State and play Indiana State twice. WSU has a 5/5 home/road split down the stretch, but the five away include trips to MSU, Indiana State, SIU and UNI. Ouch.

Spin 4: The RPI only absorbed a flesh wound. The Springfield News-Leader’s Lyndal Scranton just tweeted that the Bears’ RPI fell only three spots, from 36 to 39, according to WarrenNolan.com. It coulda been worse, right?

Annoyed, not concerned. That’s how I’d describe my feelings about the loss to Indiana State. Good things are still out there for this Missouri State team, but they’ve got to take care of their business. They’ll get back to work at that Saturday night against Creighton.

–QCFM

Required Reading:

Sycamores snap Bears’ nine-game winning streak (Springfield News-Leader)

Post-game thoughts on Bears’ defeat (Springfield News-Leader)

Indiana State defeats Missouri State, 70-69 (Terre Haute Tribune-Star)

Wins are like girlfriends…

Nafis Ricks

Nafis Ricks drew praise from his coach and his opponents' coach in Missouri State's win over Southern Illinois.

Troy University football coach Larry Blakeney has said it better than anybody: “Wins are like girlfriends. They’re not all gonna be pretty.”

True dat, Larry. True dat.

So I’m not at all concerned that Mighty MO State had to sweat a little bit in a 64-51 Missouri Valley Conference win over Southern Illinois at JQH Arena Jan. 12. From here on out, style points are irrelevant and there is no such thing as a bad, or ugly, win. The “W” is all that matters.

And that’s what they got against the Salukis, a traditional nemesis, Wednesday night in a pretty workmanlike performance. There was nothing stellar, glamorous, or otherwise eye-popping about this one. They just flat got it done, basically with two big runs. The first was an 18-2 surge in the first half to erase an early SIU lead. The second burst was 8-0 after the Salukis had chipped a 14-point lead down to four.

Credit freshman Nathan Scheer – whose praises we’ve sung on this very blog – and senior Nafis Ricks for making the key plays. Scheer scored just five points, but he made them count. He got two on a putback early in the second half, temporarily giving the Bears a seven-point cushion with 12 minutes to play, and later drained a 3-pointer to make it a 52-41 game with 6:34 remaining on the clock.

Ricks, meanwhile, knocked down the jumper that preceded Scheer’s big trey and drew the fourth foul on SIU point guard Mykel Cleveland. Cleveland later fouled out. SIU coach Chris Lowery said his team played “haywire” when Cleveland was out of the game and paid this semi-backhanded compliment to Ricks in The Southern:

“They fought the storm, and Ricks hit two big baskets. When we were down four, he hit the next two plays. He didn’t do anything the whole game until they needed him.”

Wow…that’s quite a compliment coach.

Missouri State is still the lone unbeaten in Valley play six games in, only one up on both preseason favorite Wichita State and surprising Indiana State. At 14-3 overall, the Bears are starting to put together a pretty good resume for the NCAA Tournament. But it only takes a slip-up or two to derail all this momentum, and there are two prime slip-up opportunities coming right at the Bears.

The first is Sunday, Jan. 16, at Bradley – another trap game. The Braves are winless in Valley play, but Carver Arena has rarely been kind to the Bears, who will have to be refreshed and focused to pull out a win.

From there it’s on to Terre Haute Jan. 19, where Indiana State has been nails on the Hulman Center floor. The Sycamores are 6-0 there this season, 3-0 in Valley play. Their average margin of victory in Valley home games this season? Try 18 points, in defeating Bradley, Illinois State and Northern Iowa. Yes, Bradley and Ill. State are both off to 0-6 league starts, but that 70-45 win over UNI was an eye-opener. The Sycs are the early surprise in the MVC, sitting in second place at 5-1, so this game is anything but a gimme.

Should the Bears sweep this road swing, though, they’ll be 8-0 in Valley play, 16-3 overall, and carrying some significant buzz into the home stretch. That stretch includes six of their final 10 league games on the JQH Arena floor and one crucial Bracket Buster road game. More chances to build momentum, or lose it.

–QCFM

Required Reading:

Bears find a way to win (Springfield News-Leader)

Clark: Scheer rewards Martin’s trust (Springfield News-Leader)

Salukis’ comeback falls short at MVC leader Missouri State (The Southern)

Seck kicks himself, even after double-double (The Southern)

Senior class powers Mighty MO State past Wichita

Leonard flashes some D

Better known for his shooting, senior Adam Leonard pesters a Wichita State Shocker Jan. 9. Mighty MO State's 59-56 win at WSU showed off the strength of the Bears' senior class. (Photo courtesy of The Wichita Eagle)

It’s been more than 24 hours and I am still riding the buzz achieved while sitting in my car, in my brother’s driveway, with my brother and his wife, listening to Missouri State knock of Wichita State 59-56 Jan. 9. It’s their first win there since 2007 and – at 5-0 with wins at Northern Iowa, Creighton and Wichita – puts the Bears squarely in control the Missouri Valley Conference race.

The Bears’ last win at Wichita came Feb. 20, 2007 (71-65), which is a long time ago. So long, that none of the current Bears were on the team back them. None of them knew what it felt like to come out of the Roundhouse with a win, or even the kind effort it really takes to escape their intact. Now they do.

And while Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz is lamenting the Shockers’ lack of a go-to guy, Bears fans know they have a senior quartet that is nails under pressure.

MO State’s double-digit lead was gone. Completely. Whittled away from 10 in just under six minutes. That stretch saw the Bears turn it over twice and shoot 0-for-7 from the floor. Now Koch Arena was rocking at what some Shocker fans say is the highest volume they’ve ever heard. It would’ve sent a lot of lesser teams melting into a puddle. Not Mighty MO State.

Coach Cuonzo Martin called timeout and drew up a play for his offense that didn’t go exactly as planned, but the Bears made it work. Jermaine Mallett found fellow senior Adam Leonard with just enough space in the left corner to get off his shot and – despite failing to draw iron a couple of times in the first half – Leonard didn’t hesitate. He cast off from long range with a defender closing in and buried the go-ahead 3-pointer.

“That play was not really drawn up for me, but Kyle set a good screen and Will (Creekmore) had a good re-screen,” Leonard told the Springfield News-Leader. “I let it fly and made that shot. I was 3-for-13 before that. It didn’t matter in my mind. I hit the shot and we moved on.”

Creekmore, another Bears senior, then came up with perhaps the defensive play of the game, going up with his left hand to block a shot by Wichita big man J.T. Durley, then going across the lane to collect the ball and prevent the Shockers from getting a second-chance shot. In fact, Wichita State didn’t hit another field goal the rest of the night.

Nafis Ricks, the Bears’ fourth and final senior, hit one of two free throws later on to push Missouri State’s lead back to 2 with 24 seconds to play.

In all, MSU’s senior class combined for 37 points, 2o rebounds and 9 assists. WSU’s own five-member senior class (only four of whom played) went for 25 points, 21 boards and 2 assists.

Not to get too far ahead of things here (there are still 13 Valley games to play, six of them on the road), but we’re seeing the makings of a championship team. Great senior leadership, a legit star player (Kyle Weems), key role players (freshman wing Nathan Scheer, junior post Caleb Patterson, great defense, and clutch shot making.

And the nation is starting to notice, too. The latest Bracketology has Mighty MO State an 11 seed in the West Region, the Bears got a pair of votes in the latest Associated Press Top 25 and the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 has MSU third, behind St. Mary’s and Gonzaga.

But the NCAA Tournament is not a given. The case can be made that the Valley is a one-bid league this year, and if Wichita State finishes the season strong and wins Arch Madness, the Bears could be left out again come March Madness.

Of course, the only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is on the court. Next step is Wednesday, Jan. 12, when Southern Illinois visits JQH Arena.

–QCFM

Required Reading:

Valley road leads Bears to first place (Springfield News-Leader)

Bears have set themselves up for title run (Springfield News-Leader)

Missouri State defeats Wichita State 59-56 (The Wichita Eagle)

Bob Lutz: Shockers lack go-to guy in crucial stretch (The Wichita Eagle)

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