by Missouri State Athletics
Jarred Dixon’s two-handed heave from half court as time expired found its mark, lifting Missouri State past visiting Illinois State, 66-65, here Sunday in a thrilling Missouri Valley Conference victory for the Bears.
MSU (13-12, 7-5 MVC) trailed by five with 13 seconds to go before Josh Webster drove the lane and converted a layup and free throw on a traditional three-point play with 7.8 seconds left. Illinois State’s in-bound pass that followed was tipped by Keandre Cook and bounced around several times at mid-court before Dixon scooped it up and found enough clearance in heavy traffic to launch it off the glass and in.
The Missouri State victory is the club’s fifth in its last six games, moving the Bears into a tie with Illinois State (14-11, 7-5) and Drake for second place in the MVC.
Tulio Da Silva led the Bears with 17 points, while Ryan Kreklow scored 14, Dixon added 13, and Webster tallied 11. Seven of Webster’s points came in the final 77 seconds, while Da Silva’s 8-for-8 effort from the field tied a JQH Arena record.
Illinois State, which hadn’t trailed since the 11:42 mark of the first half, got a game-high 22 points from Phil Fayne, while Milik Yarbrough added 17 points.
After trailing 32-27 at the intermission, coach Dana Ford’s Bears rallied to tie the game three times in the second half, but could never overtake the Redbirds until the end. Fayne’s jumper of the glass with 14:06 to play put the Redbirds ahead 42-34, their biggest lead of the game.
But MSU rallied from there, reeling off eight unanswered points over the next three minutes to knot the score, 42-42. Da Silva had four points in that run with Keandre Cook and Jared Ridder adding two apiece.
Ryan Kreklow helped the Bears tie it twice more, first on a 3-pointer at the 10:19 mark to make it 45-45, and 30 seconds later with a pair of free throws to tie it at 47.
But the Redbirds held Missouri State without a field goal for the next eight minutes in a critical part of the second half, building their lead to 58-51 at the 3:06 mark. Fayne tallied five points on an 11-4 ISU run in that span, while the Bears managed just 4-of-6 free throws.
After Kreklow made one-of-two charity shots at the 2:43 mark, MSU’s defense held, and Dixon converted a pair of free throws with 1:45 left to get Missouri State within 58-54.
Keyshawn Evans answered 21 seconds later for ISU with a driving layup to make it 60-54. Webster quickly got to the rim and made a layup for the Bears to make it a four-point game headed into the final minute.
From there, Illinois State made 3-of-4 free throws and got a layup by Yarbrough, but Missouri State stayed in it, first with a dunk-back by Da Silva, then on a rebound and score by Webster, and finally on a three-point play by Webster late that made it 65-63 with less than eight seconds to play.
The rugged MSU defense that is allowing just 61.3 points in Valley games then came up with its eighth steal of the game on the final play of the afternoon, and Dixon sent the Springfield faithful to the exits with a thrilling win.
Keandre Cook led all players with 10 rebounds to help the Bears’ winning cause, while Webster dished out a game-high five assists.
MSU finished 22-of-47 (.468) from the field, 5-of-19 (.263) from long range and 17-of-25 (.680) at the stripe with 30 rebounds.
The Redbirds were 26-of-51 (.510) overall, 6-of-11 (.545) from three and 7-of-14 (.500) at the line with 31 rebounds and 13 turnovers.
The Bears will take to the road this week for games at Evansville (Wednesday, 6 p.m.) and first-place Loyola (Sunday, 3 p.m.) before playing three of their final four Valley games at JQH Arena.