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)

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Scheer brilliance will be key for Mighty MO State

Missouri State freshman Nathan Scheer

Freshman Nathan Scheer's shooting was a big key for Missouri State in a win over Evansville. Let's hope it's a recurring theme. (Photo courtesy of Missouri State University Photographic Services)

Whew.

It had all the makings of a trap game, and it certainly lived up to it. Missouri State struggled for about a half, then used a 9-0 run early in the second half to take out Evansville 65-50 in a Missouri Valley Conference game Jan. 7 at JQH Arena. Now comes the much-anticipated showdown between preseason No. 1 pick Wichita State (13-2, 4-0) and No. 2 Missouri State (12-3, 4-0), Sunday, Jan. 9, 7:35 p.m. Winner has the inside track on the Valley’s regular season championship.

That showdown may have lost some luster had it not been for freshman Nathan Scheer, who poured in a career-high 14 points thanks to 4-for-5 shooting from 3-point range. Three of those treys came in the first 11:05 of the second half to help the Bears put the game out of reach. The first one came early, following a pair of buckets by Kyle Weems, to push MSU’s lead to 8. The third came with 8:55 to play and, after UE had closed to within 7, put the Bears up by double digits to stay.

It’s not an surprising performance for the 6-foot-4 wing, who had the rep of a good shooter, but it’s an important one for Missouri State. Everyone knows about the Bears’ returning talents, and they will all draw plenty of attention from Valley defenses. So here’s your potential X-Factor. If he’s on – or even if he just becomes a legitimate threat – other teams will not be able to slack off him to pay extra attention to guys like Weems, or Adam Leonard, or Jermaine Mallett. Scoring depth will be crucial in a stretch run, and Scheer just might be the answer.

Valley teams will be taking notice. His presence was a factor in the win at Creighton, and now his shooting has been a factor too. Let’s see how the freshman handles the bright lights of the Valley.

Now comes the showdown. No doubt this one is huge, but, as MSU play-by-play legend Art Haines pointed out, the Bears are playing with house money. They’ve already picked up wins at Creighton and UNI, the two teams picked right below MSU and WSU. Any team in the Valley take a 2-1 record on that road swing, so the Bears have nothing to lose (sorry for the cliche).

But they have to play like it. Missouri State has trailed at halftime in two of its four league wins, and led by a combined three points in the other two. This is clearly a second half team, and that’s okay…but not at Wichita State. This is the league’s toughest road environment, bar none, and an early deficit in front of a vicious, fired up, Wichita crowd is a recipe for disaster. Coach Cuonzo Martin and his squad have got to figure out a way to be close, or even ahead, at the break. There will be no wiping out an 11-point deficit on the road tomorrow night.

–QCFM

Required Reading:

Scheer delivers as Bears top Aces (Springfield News-Leader)

Missouri State pulls away from Evansville Aces in second half for 65-60 win (Evansville Courier & Press)

Photos (and interview): Weems paces MSU past Aces (TAGsgf.com)

Highlights, from KSPR 33: Bears trump Aces for 4-0 Valley start