MVC Tournament Recap: Illinois State 56, Northern Iowa 42
When “Little O” nailed a 3-pointer with two on the shot clock all hopes of the first ever All-Iowa MVC Final were dashed. The Osiris Eldridge shot came from 22 feet out with 2:18 to play.
Trying to rebound from an off night in the Illinois State tournament opener, Eldridge came out possessed. The super sophomore darted straight down the lane, dunking with his entire forearm eclipsing the rim. Man of the hour Brandon Sampay has sneakily had a nice tournament, contributing 9.5 ppg as quietly as a 255-pound reserve can.
“Coach just kept telling me to go in there and do my best, said Sampay, “Most of my role is to get in there and get rebounds, score inside more than anything else and play defense.”
Coming off a nice shooting night, Northern Iowa shot 5-23 from behind the arc. As he has all season, Eric Coleman led the way. Standing 6’6”, shooting 6-10, he made 38% of the team’s shots. Coleman tied a career high with 15 rebounds, which was nearly half of his team’s boards.
EC finished 6th career in scoring, 3rd in rebounding, and 3rd in blocks for the Northern Iowa Panthers.
Illinois State came out embarrassingly slow again, although the defense was wicked fast. The speed of play was ultra-quick, but midway through the first half it was a disappointing “7-up.”
To break the 7-7 tie, Illinois State went on a 12-0 run capped by an Eldridge three-pointer.
“Osiris the Virus,” deadly as they come in the Valley, scored 10 of his 13 points during the first half. He should have had 12 first half points, but Eldridge blew a wide-open fastbreak dunk in the final minute.
“I had a blowout,” chuckled Eldridge. “I didn’t know what I was going to do and I messed up.”
The success of Eldridge could have been expected simply because he led the conference in scoring during the regular season, but Dom Johnson’s three-pointers on successive possessions were unforeseen. The senior played well all year, only to be derailed by an emergency tonsillectomy.
“I didn’t expect Dom to have a great game,” said Head Coach Tim Jankovich. “He’s been in the hospital for a good while.” Jank added, “He got a few opportunities, and all of a sudden he looked a lot like the Dom Johnson I know.”
Illinois State likely earned its way into the NCAA Tournament with the win. The Redbirds are building something special under a first-year coach. The championship game matchup will be the first Valley title game ever involving a first-year head coach on both benches. Drake’s lead man, Keno Davis, was with the program the last three years as an assistant to his father.
The Championship pits #1 Drake against #2 Illinois State. Even though the two top seeds made the final, this matchup can be called anything but predictable. Keep in mind the two teams won 32 games combined last year. Drake has 27 wins entering play Sunday afternoon.
The number 2 seed has won this tournament 13 times, with the favorite walking away champ just 10.
The top three vote getters for Larry Bird MVC Player of the Year will all play in the final game. Osiris Eldridge, Josh Young, and the winner Adam Emmenecker.