Paul Lusk to remain men’s basketball coach at Missouri State

ST. LOUIS — Paul Lusk will return for a seventh season as Missouri State Head Men’s Basketball Coach, athletic director Kyle Moats said on Saturday evening.

Moats and MSU President Clif Smart announced the decision following the Bears’ 78-63 loss to Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament semifinals.

Smart said the university board of governors met with Moats two weeks ago to discuss the future of Lusk and the program. Following another meeting on Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to retain Lusk, regardless of the outcome of the MVC Tournament.

“Nobody wants to win more than Paul and myself… more than the fans. Was it difficult? Yeah, not the decision, just this year.”

Lusk has two years remaining on his contract with a $742,906 buyout now that the 2016-2017 season has ended.

“While there was some conversation about the buyout, it was not the driving force,” Smart said.

“The driving force is we believe we have a good coaching staff, that we’re close, and that we have a good nucleus of players we believe will be better next year.”

The Bears finished 17-16, losing six of their last seven to end the regular season after a strong start to the non-conference schedule.

Moats pointed to the departure of junior college transfer guard Ronnie Rousseau III, who decided to step away from the program after just 14 games, as a turning point.

“We’ve recruited pretty well. Getting all those guys to stay has been the biggest issue,” he said. “This year, there is no doubt in my mind that Ronnie leaving was a big factor in the outcome of this team. I’m not blaming it all on Ronnie, but it’s just a fact.”

Moats also expressed concern over attendance, which has dropped from an average of  7,595 fans per night in 2011 to 4,140, but stated his faith that the Bears core will be better next season and provide a good enough product to improve ticket sales.

“I encourage them to hang with us,” Smart added, “but if they want to drop out for a year and come back when we’re winning and heading to the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be happy to welcome them back.”

The Bears are 88-106 in six seasons under Lusk.