MVC Tournament "Arch Madness": Day Three
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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.
Bradley 60, Wichita State 52
The Bradley Braves squared off against the pre-tournament favorite Wichita State Shockers. The Bradley unit entered play with a substantial six-game winning streak. Closing out their Missouri Valley Conference campaign, BU beat Southern Illinois and crushed Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
Even though slight upsets occurred twice in the opening rounds, no team had knocked off a heavily favored opponent until Saturday. Bradley checked in at the number five slot, while Wichita State earned the top seed.
The game was nip and tuck for most of the way. Foul trouble plagued Bradley as both Patrick O'Bryant and Tony Bennett collected three fouls midway through the second stanza.
Despite the threat of benchtime, P O'B started to take over in the middle. Blocks, slams, and putbacks helped O'Bryant establish low post dominance unseen in the MVC playoffs.
Guard Matt Braeuer took an incidental shot to the chops. The blow brought about a blank stare, stunning Braeuer temporarily. At this juncture, does a three point attempt sound frugal? No. He lofts an airball three feet short of the tin.
The presence of a seven-footer in the lane means so much. The thought of getting a shot blocked can be enough to scramble a play. Even ruining an interior shot attempt is a success for Bradley. Patrick O'Bryant has that effect on opponents.
Even though the game was corset-tight, Bradley took the shot clock down under five as often as possible in the last eight minutes. Sean Ogirri was white hot from the arc as he nailed 19 points. One particular three opened up a 49-46 lead with two minutes to play.
Bradley certainly embraced the lead, but perhaps the passivity was too much. Methodical, lethargic offensive series hurt the Braves momentum. Regardless, with ninety seconds remaining, Marcellus Sommerville rose up and dropped a righty baby hook. On the play, his upper body strength proved vital. Following 'Cell's successful jumper, five points separated the two teams.
Wichita State pounded the ball immediately to Conference MVP Paul Miller. He tried an up-and-under move which Patrick O'Bryant still challenged. Once Miller retrieved his own offensive rebound a fould call followed. Two made free throws later and WSU closed to within three.
After holding the ball and depleting the shot clock Tony Bennett crossed his man. Finding himself surprisingly open on the wing, he hesitantly heaved a triple, which serendipitously fell. Game over. After a free throw parade, the Braves recorded a 60-52 win, and in all likelihood, made the outcome of the MVC Final essentially irrelevant. The Braves will be Dancing next week.
Southern Illinois 55, Northern Iowa 46 (OT)
Prior to every basketball game is typically the national anthem. Having four games in one day and nine in four days calls for some variation. Tournament organizers wisely brought God Bless America to the venue. How does one react to non-national anthem songs though? Hand over heart seems trite and cub scout salute falls short on the relevancy scale.
Even so, the most patriotic melody of the weekend happened to be God Bless the U.S.A. The line "I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free" is perpetually chill-inducing.
Now for some basketball.
A common theme for the Missouri Valley Tournament this year has been low-scoring first halves. Generally the culprit is poor shooting. This was not the case in this matchup, though, as Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa genuinely played excellent defense.
The opening possession saw SIU play tremendous defense for 34 seconds. UNI guard John Little knocked down a very difficult turnaround 16-foot jumper to thwart the Saluki effort.
Eric Coleman of Northern Iowa is a game-changer. With the bounce of a Mexican jumping bean, EC lacks height but compensates with hustle. Always of concern around the rim, Coleman challenges the clearest of boards. Eric Coleman drew both through spastic tenacity around the tin. EC's frenzied danceclub-fast play borders on out of control. Ironically it is defenders who pay the price, especially in this game, with mounting foul totals.
Unfortunately the game missed Coleman later on. Coach Greg McDermott shared, "Down the stretch when it became an issue with the possibility of a foul, we don't want him in that scenario."
With just over 13 minutes to go in the first half, a paltry 9-6 score rested on the scoreboard. And rested. 12, 11, 10. And rested. For four game minutes not a single point was scored by either team. While the scoreboard rested the players battled. Both defenses won battles consistently, fighting as if defending their home. Sincerely, that much heart was poured into the team D.
Approaching seven minutes, UNI forward Grant Stout picked up a second foul. When the center left the game Northern Iowa got really small really fast. Coleman anchored the frontline, as his linemates standing 6'4", 6'3", 6'2", and 5'11" needed rebounding effort to offset size disparity.
Twice SIU made a basket, revved up the crowd and inched closer, only to give up a quick retort on the other end. Ben Jacobson recorded zero first half points and the teams ended where they started. All square. 20-20 after 20.
In the early second UNI ran a little-man's offense. Lots of drive and kick coupled with rare post feeds defined their game plan. An actual lead was opened up at 31-28 on a Jacobson triple at 12:55.
It was at this time Coach McDermott removed Eric Coleman. Four players 6'4" and under accompanied an ineffective Grant Stout on the floor. While this defense looks small, this lineup does present matchup problems both ways. For instance, the Corliss Williamson-size SIU forward Matt Shaw was forced to check a natural two-guard, Eric Crawford.
Close, rugged defense permeated the second half as well, despite occasional heroic baskets. Bryan Mullins' fist-pumping three with 5:30 left propped up long-sitting fans. Yet another tie arose at 38-38 with 1:30 remaining.
SIU's savior came in the form of Mullins runner. An awkward, junky-looking shot forced UNI to go for the win. Mullins drove hard left and rotated midair with his lead leg raised for balance. On the way down he offered a soft floater to the basketball gods. They accepted.
Benny Jacobson hit a couple of impossible pull-ups from the elbow off the dribble. He did NOT hit the similarly-designed play at the buzzer. Northern Iowa ran the clock down to six seconds and B Jac attacked to no avail.
A game marred by ties entered its rightful resting place, overtime.
Randal Falker two-hand boomed a 3-point play home to open the overtime stanza. Once Southern pushed the lead to 45-40, the endgame ensued. Excellent free throw efficiency and poised ball-handling by the Salukis ended a dramatic, hard-fought game.