Led by J.T. Miller’s 16 points, Missouri State used solid defense, rebounding and a balanced offensive attack to turn back visiting Evansville, 72-55, here Saturday in Missouri Valley Conference play.
The Bears (17-10, 7-7 MVC) also got 12 points from freshman Mustafa Lawrence and 11 apiece from Alize Johnson and Jarrid Rhodes. Johnson also added 13 rebounds for his 17th double-double of the year, while Obediah Church matched his career high with 13 boards for MSU.
Missouri State out-rebounded Evansville by a 45-22 margin, the club’s second-best rebound margin of the campaign.
Evansville (16-11, 6-8 MVC) was led by Ryan Taylor’s 13 points, while Dru Smith scored 12 for the Purple Aces who were held to just 37.3 percent shooting and 30.8 percent from bonus distance.
MSU led wire-to-wire for the second straight game, turning a 13-point halftime lead into a 47-31 advantage on a dunk by Church just four minutes into the second half.
Evansville reeled off the game’s next four points to get within 12, but a triple from the right corner by Ryan Kreklow pushed Missouri State ahead by 15, and then Lawrence dropped in his fourth 3-pointer of the day on MSU’s next possession to push the home side up by 18.
Taylor, the MVC’s leading scorer, fouled out with just under nine minutes to go, right after his 3-pointer at the 9:39 mark made it a 55-43 contest.
The Bears surrendered just three UE field goals the remainder of the game and used a 12-2 run over a key six-minute stretch late in the game to extend their lead to 23. Miller scored three of his game-high seven field goals in that span to put things out of reach for the Aces.
MSU finished 27-of-59 (.458) from the field and 6-of-21 (.286) from long distance. The Bears were also 12-of-17 (.706) at the foul line with just four turnovers in the second half and 13 for the game. Coach Paul Lusk’s squad scored 38 points in the paint and produced 16 second-chance points off 17 offensive caroms.
In the first half, the Bears used a pair of threes by Lawrence to jump out to an 8-2 lead and then used the momentum of a 7-0 run midway through the half to push ahead 21-12. With just over four minutes left in the opening stanza, Evansville went on a 9-2 run that covered three minutes and cut MSU’s lead to 26-24. But the Bears responded with an 11-0 run to end the period, including a dunk by Church in the final minute to push MSU ahead 37-24 at the midway point.
MSU will return to action Wednesday at Southern Illinois (7 p.m.) before returning home to JQH Arena on Sunday, Feb. 18 to play Drake at 3 p.m. on ESPNU.