SPRINGFIELD – Missouri State shot 75 percent from the field in the second half and erased a narrow halftime deficit to dispatch visiting Western Kentucky, 84-78, here Wednesday.
The Bears (4-5) knocked down eight 3-pointers in the second half, converted 13-of-16 shots from two-point range and sank 21-of-28 shots overall to post their highest scoring period – 56 points – since 2013.
MSU, which improved to 4-0 at JQH Arena this season, got 18 points from Tulio Da Silva and 15 apiece by Ryan Kreklow and Keandre Cook to lead the charge. Kreklow also added a career-high seven rebounds with classmate Jarred Dixon dishing out a game-high five assists to go with 11 points for the home side.
WKU (4-4) was led by Taveion Hollingsworth with 24 points and Charles Bassey who posted 17 points and 10 rebounds.
After trailing by one at the intermission, Missouri State came out swinging in the second half, using a 9-2 run over the first two-and-a-half minutes of the final period to retake the lead for good. Da Silva led the charge with a hook shot and dunk-back in the opening minute. Just after the first media timeout, Da Silva had tallied nine points in the span of just over five minutes, and helped the Bears build a 47-38 advantage.
By the midway point of the half, Missouri State led 63-51, answering every WKU run with one dazzling shot after another. Cook scored a traditional 3-point play, followed up a Kreklow triple with one of his own, and then swished a floater with 10:06 to play to put the Bears up by a dozen.
Immediately following the under-eight media timeout, Szymon Wojcik and Kreklow both scored from close range to build Missouri State’s advantage to 69-54, its largest of the night.
But the Conference USA preseason favorites did not go down without a fight. The Hilltoppers used an 11-2 outburst over the next two minutes that included five points by Dalano Benton to close the gap to 71-65 with just over four minutes remaining.
Dixon retaliated with a 3-point shot out of an in-bounds play, and less than a minute later, Kreklow buried his third trey of the night from the right wing to extend MSU’s lead to 77-68 with just two-and-a-half to go.
From there, WKU scored six unanswered points over the next 80 seconds – including a pair of dazzling buckets by Bassey – to get within 77-74. But once again, Dixon stepped up, just beating the shot clock from beyond the arc and draining a long-range triple to restore order.
Cook and Kreklow combined to make four free throws down the stretch, and the Bears matched their highest offensive output of the year to win by six.
For the game, Missouri State was 33-of-60 (.550) from the field, 11-of-27 (.407) from long range and 7-of-9 (.778) from the stripe while out-rebounding WKU by a 32-25 margin.
Western Kentucky made 29-of-57 (.509) shots overall and converted 19-of-31 (.613) in the second half to make it a game. The Hilltoppers were 8-of-15 (.533) from 3-point range and made 12-of-16 (.750) at the line with 12 turnovers.
There were 10 lead changes in the first half, but none more impactful than Wojcik’s 3-pointer from the right corner that capped a 12-2 run by the Bears. Wojcik also had a driving baseline dunk in the sequence, helping bring Missouri State all the way back from a 19-10 deficit to lead 22-21 with just over five minutes left in the opening stanza.
The Hilltoppers ended the half on an 8-6 run to go into the intermission leading 29-28, despite one of the best defensive halves of the year by MSU.
Also of note in the game was a pair of blocked shots by Obediah Church. The Bears’ all-time leader in shot rejections pushed his career total to 201, making him just the sixth player in Missouri Valley Conference history to eclipse 200 blocks.
The Bears return to the road after final exams to take on North Dakota State on Saturday, Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. MSU’s next home game is Saturday, Nov. 22 against UAPB at 1 p.m.
Tickets for the UAPB game are available now at MissouriStateBears.com or by visiting the Old Missouri Bank Box Office at JQH Arena, (417) 836-7678, during regular box office hours.