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2007 Missouri Valley Tournament Recap: Day 1

by Andrew Force | March 1st, 2007

#9 Drake 101, #8 Evansville 96

For a building that has undergone two name changes in the last seven years, another change could be in the works.

Call it Shooter’s Heaven. Maybe Land O’Plenty.

Regardless the newly named Scottrade Center welcomed Valley players with a fun-filled gimmick…shoot one, get 3 free. Points that is.

Drake University beat the University of Evansville 101-96 in the highest scoring game since the Missouri Valley Tournament moved to St. Louis in 1991.

This edition of Arch Madness began with true arc madness.

Drake made 10 first half 3′s hitting at an alarming 77% rate. The relatively cold Evansville men dropped seven triples in a dozen attempts. Aces’ guard Jason Holsinger opened the game with a pair of bombs. Unfortunately for DU his quota was nowhere near filled. For the game, the 5’11″ southpaw tied a MVC Tournament record by making eight three-pointers. “With the way they play, you get a few more looks than you normally would when teams play man to man,” said Holsinger. Nearly every one of Holsinger’s made 3′s were wide-open shots.

The Bulldogs had their own ridiculous successes. After only six game minutes, Drake hit nine straight field goals. The DU offense could not be stopped between sharp-cutting guards off the ball and flaming hot wings, it was all good.

The first half frenzy can be encapsulated by one statistic. The Evansville Aces picked up their first foul 11 minutes into the game. Defense was hardly being played and the D that was around was loose on the perimeter.

Even freshman Josh Young, playing in his first MVC Tourney game, got in on the act, fearlessly nailing five treys. “I felt like I was in high school letting it fly. My teammates helped me get in a rhythm, and I shot well,” viewed Young.

Credit for so many open shots goes to the Bulldogs’ exceptional passing. Evansville intentionally overplayed the ball-side, which left them victim to skip passes. Drake coach Tom Davis said, “It only takes a couple of good shooters. We made 15 3′s, and Josh and Klayton [Korver] made 10 of them.”

While the first half (61%) was all smiles, Drake’s shooting (36%) cooled off considerably in the second stanza, perhaps expectedly.

One series in particular was devoid of smiles. Drake executed a beautiful lob play in which Leonard Houston clenched the rim a little too long for the official’s taste. A technical foul was called. Incensed by the questionable call, one belligerent DU fan bolted nine rows forward through two security guards. He very nearly became the first fan to storm the floor on this magical weekend.

Drake led almost the entire second half, but never commandingly. As UE tightened up the defense, their offense became plain but effective. Pass the ball to 240-pound Matt Webster. Let him work for either a lay-up or draw the foul.

“He’s the team,” reflected swingman Shy Ely. “We know that if we are going to win, it has got to be through him.” This strategy netted Evansville eight points in the final three minutes.

With the game squared 88-88 and 5.5 seconds remaining Evansville’s best player, senior Webster approached the line for two free throws. The first was just a little awry, but the pressure mounted exponentially as the ball rattled off the iron. With the crowd buzzing in anticipation, Big Webb’s second toss desperately nicked the front of the rim, falling into Ely’s hands. He kicked it out to an open Kyle Anslinger, who missed his 6th three-pointer of the night as the regulation horn sounded.

Overtime was controlled by Drake University. The frame held the same dynamic though, as UE fought back to tie it late. After Webster nailed two free throws, Korver knocked down the game winning three-pointer from the corner.

The Aces’ last gasp came seconds later when Jason Holsinger dribbled across halfcourt. He was going to shoot a three for the tie and everyone knew it. Drake forward Ajay Calvin switched on the high screen and hopped out to block the 23-foot attempt and in effect seal the victory for the Dogs.

Drake had finally found the shooter.

On his missed free throws Webster offered, “I just missed them, I guess. I feel like I let my whole team down, including me and the four seniors, and it’s a tough way to go out.”

Evansville finished the season 14-17, but Drake moves on the MVC Quarterfinals. Their opponent, Southern Illinois, is riding an 11-game winning streak. Drake lost twice to the Salukis this year 59-54 and 72-62.

#10 Indiana State 68, # 7 Illinois State 65

Basketball is clutch three-pointers, filthy slam-dunks, frighteningly active defense. This game had all of that to be sure.

But sometimes it is about new experiences, living totally in the moment, and exuding passion for a sport you love.

Before the game even started Indiana State freshman Brant Lietnaker studied the faraway ceiling of the Scottrade Center, appreciating the magnitude both of the arena and the event.

Teammate Todd McCoy let out a primal scream as the warm-ups concluded, revealing to the record opening night crowd (8,103) how important this particular experience was to him.

The nightcap featuring Illinois State and Indiana State went down to the last minute, with each team enjoying moments of elation. In the end, Indiana State fought back from 12-down to win 68-65.

On a team stacked with first-year players, JuCo-transfers or freshmen, the Illinois State veteran showed up when the game intensified. Greg Dilligard had a supreme impact on the second half. He came out hard to open it with an authoritative lay-up followed by an alley-oop flush. Quickly thereafter “Dilli” denied a gimme breakaway lay-up off the hand of Gabe Moore. The largest fight night fanbase heartily cheered the senior’s effort as he checked out four minutes in, having set the tone for the half.

“He’s an unbelievable character kid who laid his heart on the floor tonight,” said Illinois State Head Coach Porter Moser. Trampolining off his effort, ISU opened up a double-digit lead several times only to see a timely triple from the Sycamore backcourt.

All worth three, one particular Indiana State shot carried a little more weight.

The game-winner was such a simple play. Facing an Illinois State 2-3 one, the ball moved from the point to the logo to the corner. Marico Stinson recalls, “It was penetration, and when [Trent Wurtz] got the ball, he looked up and saw me. He passed and I was waiting and I just shot.” Two passes executed in rhythm set up Stinson’s triumphant swish.

The freshman Marico had missed 23 of his last 30 from deep. This one make vaulted Indiana State into the MVC Tournament Quarterfinals.

Sycamore point guard Moore viewed, “Either you win or you go home, and tonight we didn’t want to go home, so we just kept battling like Coach [Royce Waltman] talked about in the locker room.”

For the Redbirds, who led so much of the second half, the loss was tough to swallow. “Obviously it’s a really heartbreaking loss for us. I felt we were in control most of the game,” recollected Moser.

MVC Freshman of the Year Redbird Osiris Eldridge led all scorers, coming of the bench for 18 points. Starting Sycamore center Jay Tunnell led ISU with 16 points, eight made free throws.

For Indiana State, the passion persists for this enduring moment.

ISU battles Creighton, a team they split the season-series with, each team winning the home leg.

PREVIEW

#4 Bradley Braves (20-11, 10-8 Valley) vs.
#5 Northern Iowa Panthers (18-12, 9-9 Valley)
Jim Les (2-4 MVC Tourney) vs. Ben Jacobson (1st MVC Tourney)

Snapshot
At first glance it appears Bradley just go a supremely unfortunate draw as Northern Iowa swept them in the regular season. Truthfully, three teams swept Bradley. They were #2 Creighton, #3 Missouri State, and #5 Northern Iowa. In fact the Braves only earned one win against the top five teams in the MVC.

History
Bradley made a nice MVC run last year on the shoulders of Patrick O’Bryant. Despite losing the MVC Tournament Championship to SIU 59-46, Bradley continued their momentum with two bigtime NCAA wins over Kansas and Pitt.

On February 20th, Northern Iowa shot 63% from the floor en route to a 79-70 win. It was the fourth home loss for Bradley in the last 30 games in Carver Arena.

Grant Stout had 25 rebounds in the two Panther victories.

Style Combat
Inside Versus Outside.
The two teams’ styles could not be more different.

The Braves (humans) like the outside better while the Panthers (wild cats) enjoy the comforts of being inside more. Odd.

Northern Iowa had a balanced attack last year, but all that changed when Ben Jacobson (no relation to the current coach) graduated. The team now gets 47% of its scoring from the frontcourt in a guard-dominated league. For frame of reference, 27% of Bradley’s points are from the forwards and centers.

The UNI frontcourt affects the game defensively as much as offensively. Stout holds the All-Time record for most blocks. Not only did he set the lifetime mark early into his junior season, Stout has more career blocks then the next two guys combined.

Stout and his frontcourt mate Eric Coleman earned 2nd team All-Conference honors this week in a vote by the coaches. The duo rank first and second in rebounding for the Valley. They are the only tandem in the nation with both players averaging upwards of nine rebounds per game. Their impact on games is indelible.

Ironically, Bradley underwent the complete opposite transformation. All four top scorers from last season’s Sweet 16 team departed, three of them frontcourt members. All three are currently playing professional basketball in some form.

Jim Les talked to several basketball minds nationally prior to this campaign. He wanted to develop a strategy that emphasized strong guard play. The help given was practical and evidently excellent because BU made almost 100 more 3′s than any other MVC team. Their outside shooting (43%) is the third most accurate nationwide.

Thanks for the advice.

Foul Prone
UNI center Coleman fouled out of four games this year and led the team in personal fouls.

Why It Matters
Bradley spent most of the year hovering around the NCAA cutoff point for at-large status. Lose this game and they are done. Southern Illinois’s student section chanted “NIT” to the Bradley Braves before the February 7th SIU-Bradley contest. Bradley could defeat UNI, likely setting up a rematch with SIU in the MVC Semifinals. Oh how the Braves would like to shove an L in the faces of those taunting fans.

Hot Hand

Point guard Daniel Ruffin led the Braves in scoring four of the last nine games. The team would prefer this anomaly to desist. He is not one of their first few options, and Ruffin’s numbers indicate a drought elsewhere on the roster.

In starting the last three games, Kwadzo Ahelegbe has found his range. The true freshman shot 5-8 from three in the last four games.

Decisive Statistic
Bradley cannot rebound. They get outrebounded by seven a night and Northern Iowa is the best defensive rebounding team in the league. For BU to beat the Panthers in this category would be shocking. However, completely abandoning the pursuit of errant shots would assuredly lead to Bradley’s undoing.

Final Word
“Bradley is a very good three-point shooting team. We’ve just got to make sure we try to make them take as tough a shot as possible and stick with the game plan. They are going to make tough shots because that’s what they’ve been doing all year. Next time come down the court and work harder to make it tougher on them.”
Northern Iowa PG Brooks McKowen
–Andrew Force

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