by Ben Adamson
The No. 21/23 Missouri State Lady Bears wrapped up the regular season Saturday afternoon with a record-setting 72-61 victory over Loyola on Senior Day at JQH Arena.
The outright Missouri Valley Conference champions completed the first perfect home regular season since 2004 with a 15-0 mark at JQH Arena, and at 26-4 overall and 16-2 in MVC play, set a school record for regular season victories with what already serves as the fourth-highest overall win total in program history.
The Lady Bears take the top seed in the MVC Tournament next week in Moline, Ill., and begin play at noon on Friday, March 13 against the winner of Thursday’s contest between eighth-seeded Loyola and No. 9 Indiana State.
Missouri State had five steals in the first six minutes on the way to a 14-4 lead, but the Ramblers (15-14, 6-12) made it a two-point game early in the second period and stayed within striking distance until twice taking the lead in the third quarter.
MSU’s Elle Ruffridge countered with a go-ahead 3-pointer each time, allowing LUC to lead for a total of 42 seconds, and Abby Hipp’s 3-point play made it 49-44 after three quarters on the way to a career-high 16 points for the junior.
Loyola tied the game twice more in the fourth quarter, Brice Calip scored twice in a 6-0 run to make it 57-51, and Jasmine Franklin had nine points and four rebounds in the first eight minutes of the final period, the last on a putback with 2:12 left for a 64-57 advantage.
Mya Bhinhar scored a minute later to cap a 6-0 run, and MSU’s final five points came at the foul line for the final score and largest lead of the game.
Franklin finished with 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds to share high honors with Hipp, while Calip scored 10, Bhinhar had nine and Ruffridge added eight to help MSU shoot 44 percent overall in its 50th victory in the last 57 games.
Senior Alexa Willard set a school record with her 129th consecutive start, and the Lady Bears won 36-28 on the glass to remain one of 10 unbeaten home teams in Division I.