MVC Tournament Recap: Illinois State 63, Missouri State 58

by Andrew Force | March 8th, 2008

Illinois State needed to win or it risked seeing its bubble burst. Without a win, Missouri State would lose its coach. Suffice it to say a sense of urgency was in the air.

As usual, the underdog came out swinging–the winners from Day One tend to ride a wave of passion to a first half lead over the rustier “bye” teams, only to fall back down to earth once their legs go. ISU capitalized on Missouri State’s fall, winning 63-58 over the Bears.

ISU made the early deficit up quicker than most slow starters. By halftime the Redbirds were within one at 31-30.

“They had the feel of the court and the basket,” said ISU point guard Boo Richardson. He mentioned the advantage the “returning” team has by winning the opening round contest. “Coach was a little nervous.”

Illinois State did not play with a sense of urgency and Missouri State certainly did.

“I’m going to do what it takes,” said Deven Mitchell, referring to his last hurrah. He scrambled to yank down eight first-half rebounds. On the opposite end of the spectrum the team and conference-leading scorer, Osiris Eldridge did not score for almost 15 minutes.

When Alex Rubin gave the Redbirds the ultimate lead, ISU on the ensuing offensive possession smugly sat on the ball, stalling for the perceived inevitable victory.

“[Alex] comes in, tries to play hard, goes a hundred miles an hour but he knocked a big shot down,” said Richardson.

As Osiris ambled to the line on successive possessions, Redbird fans planned their Selection Sunday parties. Everyone surrounding ISU just “knew” the game was a foregone conclusion. The sense of urgency with ISU has been gone since February began.

Great at times, just not great when it’s time.

Just over two minutes to play, leading 59-52 the Redbirds truly flew up the court. Not once did they consider the power 35 fewer seconds on the game clock could have had. An immediate turnover gave MSU an opportunity to regain hope, which they did with a Chris Cooks’ layup.

Eventually MSU, which had been running on fumes, ran out of fumes. Starting PG Justin Fuehrmeyer vomited slightly with 7:13 left and Drew Richards fouled out at the 4:00 minute mark.

The demise of Missouri State’s 2007-2008 season coincided with the conclusion of Barry Hinson’s MSU career.

“I was unable to deliver this program an NCAA Tournament berth in nine years and the buck stops with me,” said a choked up Hinson following the loss. He is assuredly going to be fired by Missouri State ASAP.

Two senior starters did all they could to make the Hinson era last one more day. Dale Lamberth and Mitchell each scored 18 points, while the three guards shot 4-24 from the field.

Four ISU four players scored in double figures, led by Boo Richardson with 14 points. Anthony Slack finished off an exceptional fast break alley-oop pass from Boo with a demonstrative slam, completing a “Top Play” on ESPN’s Sportscenter highlights. Bulky Brandon Sampay finished with ten points, all around the rim.

Asked about his team’s NCAA chances, the typically modest Head Coach Tim Jankovich had much to say.

“Nobody in charge of the Tournament is going to ask me,” said Jankovich. “Do I think the team deserves it? Without question. I’ve watched this for years. There will be teams that get left out that deserve it. Not everybody gets to go that deserves it. Is the question do we deserve to go? Without a question. Do we get to go? We still have a chance to decide that. If we’re not fortunate enuogh to do that, then there’s a pool and there always is and there’s some people that felt like they were fortunate. There’s some people that feel like they got cheated, and we hope that whatever happens, we’re not going to be on the short end of that stick.”

Illinois State, with the mildly-deserved win continues on…perhaps beyond this weekend.

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