Bears battle Salukis to wire in Valley opener

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Missouri State gave a veteran Southern Illinois squad everything it wanted and then some here Wednesday, but eventually ran out of clock in a 75-70 defeat in the Missouri Valley Conference opener.

Ryan Kreklow and Keandre Cook led the Bears (6-8, 0-1 MVC) with 15 points apiece. The tandem combined for eight 3-pointers.

Kavion Pippen led SIU (8-6, 1-0 MVC) with 23 points, while Aaron Cook poured in 15.

After trailing by nine at the break, the Bears took less than six minutes to tie the game for the first time, 46-46, after a 3-pointer and free throw by freshman Jan Wojcik.

The Salukis then went on a 12-4 run over the next five minutes to lead 58-50 before a triple by Kreklow gave the Bears a needed spark midway through the final period and make it five-point game.

Southern Illinois’ lead teetered between 3-5 points most of the next six minutes, but a corner step-back three by Cook got MSU with 65-63 headed into the final four minutes of the game.

However, the Bears could simply not capitalize down the stretch, missing close-range shots on four straight possessions coming out of the timeout, while Southern got a dunk by Pippen and a corner three by Cook to build its lead to seven.

Still, MSU’s inspired enthusiasm in the final minute saw Cook hit a pair of foul shots, while Josh Webster had a steal and layup, followed by a 3-pointer, the latter of which made it 73-70 with 5.5 ticks on the clock.

But Cook iced it with a pair of free throws from there to make it a five-point final.

SIU was 16-for-22 (.727) at the line, and converted 11-of-23 (.478) from long range and an even 24-for-48 from the field. The Salukis out-rebounded the Bears 35-30, with five huge offensive rebounds – all in the second half – that led to nine second-chance points.

Missouri State finished 23-of-57 (.404) overall, 11-of-25 (.440) from long range and 13-of-18 (.722) at the stripe.

After making just one of their first six shots on the night, the Bears found themselves behind 12-4 before the first media timeout. MSU then chipped away over the next 10 minutes, finally getting a handle on Pippen, and getting with 28-25 after a 3-pointer by Kreklow with just over five minutes before the intermission.

Southern Illinois responded with a triple by freshman Darius Beane, but Kreklow took the visitors into the final media timeout with his third trey of the opening period to make it 31-28.

However, just before the intermission, Eric McGill tossed up a desperation 3-pointer from the top of the key that found its home – his fourth of the half – to put the home team ahead 39-31 at the midway point.

The Bears continue conference play at JQH Arena this Saturday at 1 p.m. against Valparaiso in their Missouri Valley Conference home opener.

Tickets for the Valpo game are available now at or by visiting the Old Missouri Bank Box Office at JQH Arena, (417) 836-7678, during regular box office hours.