Missouri Valley Arch Madness: Day One
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by Andy Force
Senior Writer Andy Force recaps all the Missouri Valley action live from the Savvis Center in Saint Louis, Missouri.
A blustery Thursday afternoon swoops into cool St. Louis. The strong winds bring in four hapless teams fraught with problems. Talent deficiencies, lineup holes, rudderless play, poor shooting to name a few. These four teams serve as carrion for the rest of the Missouri Valley. With six teams all vying for at-large bids in a conference unaware of its annual Big Dance quota, the four playing Thursday have earned accolades only by association thus far. The aforementioned teams are 7-seed Evansville, 8-seed Drake, 9-seed Indiana State, and 10-seed Illinois State.
Game One: Indiana State 72, Drake 63
Game One featured a battle of blue-backed fans, teams, schools. The Drake Bulldogs are led by longtime Iowa Hawkeye coach, Dr. Tom Davis. That's not a self-appointed doctoral post; he did the school, people.
Indiana State has had a balloon of a season. Filled with hope, promise and helium after knocking off big brother Indiana University, the midseason injury to team leader David Moss deflated the atmospheric orb. At the time Moss led the team in scoring, assists (as a SF), and defended the opponents' best player. Without Moss, an 8-1 team dropped nine straight. It's safe to say he mattered. As the
Missouri Valley received unprecedented national recognition, Indiana State floundered, losing ten of their first 11 conference games.
Davis began with a fullcourt press on Indiana State. Every game, every minute Drake presses. It's the Tom Davis way. The biggest difference between Drake now and Iowa then is the length. Press effectiveness increases dramatically with 6'11" players out front. Three foot arms dangling, waving, dissuading take their toll on antsy inbounders.
The first half deserves one word: gross. First half score 19-10. Indiana State took nearly ten minutes to make a basket.
The Sycamores came out hungry to start the second half. Realizing 20 minutes separated them from the end of David Moss' career, Indiana State played with a sense of urgency.
Moss himself dumped in 21 second-frame points. Most came from midrange jumpers.
A small 6-0 run served as a small but extremely pivotal series. From 49-46 to 54-46 ISU expanded their lead.
Gabriel Moore at the point guard slot was integral in press-breaking and breaking down intentionally over-aggressive defenders. Moores' penetration had to frustrate Drake players whose system typically leads to ill-advised layups under severe duress.
Indiana State 72, Drake 63. An ordinary score for a mysterious game. The Sycamores managed 10 first half tallies. 10! Halftime changed the world's rotation and ISU pounced on Drake to the tune of 62 second half points, keeping their slim NCAA hopes alive.
Game Two: Evansville 52, Illinois State 48
The second game pitted pitiful Illinois State against a surging, hotter Evansville team. Hotter than they were, which is downright frigid. The Aces suffered a terrible stretch of games around the turn of the calendar: twelve losses in thirteen goes. The last two conference games were victories, along with four of the last seven.
Scanning the Illinois State game notes affords the viewer little hope of either team scorching the nets. The Redbirds are generally regarded the stingiest defensive team around the Valley as they yield only 40% shooting to opponents. For the ISU shooters, red should mean stop because 41% is not getting it done either. Though Evansville became the favorite on paper, the mere fact that the Aces have one conference tournament win this entire decade flattens out the scales.
The game started out better than Game One, but thankfully they all do. The Redbirds dictated tempo early. Illinois State forward Greg Dilligard is a hit-and-miss player. He tends to miss from eight feet out. That is not to say he doesn't warrant a semi-frequent post feed. Feeding "Dilly" keeps the other team honest and also the touches keep him hungry and active on the boards.
ISU Coach Porter Moser concurred, saying, "I think Greg came out and played and had a terrific first half." He is the kind of raw, explosive post player mid-majors crave.
Not without his shortcomings, GD's ferocious rebounding can swiftly change the complexion of a game. So can his absence. Late in the first half, Dilly picked up his second foul. Versatile freshman Michael Vandello shamefully accrued a second blemish, as well.
The two penalized frontcourt players forced Moser to dig deep into his bag of tricks. While this may sound whimsical and full of wonderment, it is not. For what Moser pulled out was an immobile Ronnie Carlwell, hardly the answer to the Redbirds' shooting woes. Only with the consistent defensive effort were the 'Birds able to meekly flutter towards intermission down just one, 18-17.
Reggie Redbird dancing with the Redline Express to Wyclef Jean could have been simply hilarious. Instead it became the standard by which all other mascot dance routines will be judged for the remainder of time.
The second stanza began with a flurry of hoops. Hot shooting along with a faster tempo featured four different Aces knocking down shots during a 10-7 sprint out of the gate. Comparatively, the first half looked like a heat lap.
Dilligard's acquisition of a third foul early into the second half stalled the already tepid Redbird offense. Then the droughts came. Boy did they come. Evansville, Aces of the one-and-one, knocked down some freebies to break a lengthy and monotonous mid-half stretch. Neither team managed a FG for nearly four minutes. Illinois State's scoreboard lights simply froze on 28 for six and a half minutes.
"Whenever you can't get your shots to fall, it hurts your confidence a little bit," offered Dilligard. "We've just got to learn how to maintain the way we play on the defensive end."
A driving theme of the Illinois State season has been a void at the point guard spot. Moser spoke at length about the issue, "We were just completely decimated at the point guard, and tonight just magnified it." Senior guard Neil Plank handled the second half point guard duties.
It's not his position, but he plays there to assuage the teams' needs. The team is more than a point guard away from success, but Coach Moser felt there was no more glaring weakness in this edition of the Illinois State Redbirds.
Evansville won, again. The final score was 52-48. Three in a row is quite a feat for a 10-18 ballclub. Calm free-throw-line execution prolonged the foregone conclusion that was an Evansville victory. Illinois State employs a spirited half-court defense though little else deserves a thought afterwards. A bunch filled with poor shooters is just that, an afterthought.
Evansville and Indiana State live to fight another day. That day will be against the best in the Valley, but as long as the season continues, hope endures.