Hot start leads Missouri State past Evansville 68-56

EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Missouri State made 74 percent of its first-half shots and built an 18-point lead midway through a 68-56 Missouri Valley Conference road win here Wednesday, pushing the Bears to 8-5 in league play.

The Bears (14-12, 8-5) retained a share of second place in the Valley thanks to 17 points by Tulio Da Silva and 15 apiece by Jarred Dixon and Ryan Kreklow.

Evansville (10-16, 4-9 MVC) was led by Marty Hill with 15 points, while K.J. Riley added 10.

Missouri State came out firing on all cylinders, making eight of their first 11 shots in the first 10 minutes to lead 20-14. Evansville chipped away to get the Bears’ lead down to 24-22 before the under-eight media timeout, but the Bears ended the half on an 18-2 run with four triples – two by Dixon, one by Kreklow and one by Jared Ridder to lead 42-24 at the half.

The Bears made 17-of-23 (.739) shots in the opening stanza and 7-of-10 (.700) from beyond the arc to set a blistering pace midway through.

The hot streak ended abruptly in the second half as MSU missed its first nine shots to open the final stanza. Meanwhile the Aces went on a 12-2 run to close their deficit to 44-36 with 11:45 to play.

But Da Silva came up big on Missouri State’s next possession, getting a feed from Webster and throwing down his third dunk of the game to give the Bears a 10-point lead again. The Bears used the momentum of that play to start a 7-0 run that also included an elbow jumper by Kreklow and a wide open trey by Ridder from the top of the key to make it a 51-36 game with nine-and-a-half to go.

Evansville got as close as 52-44, but with three minutes to play, Keandre Cook nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing to make it a 60-47 contest – Missouri State’s only triple of the second half – and essentially put it out of reach.

The Bears made eight free throws from there and cruised to their fourth Valley road victory of the season.

MSU finished 22-of-41 (.537) from the field, 9-of-12 (.750) from beyond the arc and 15-of-25 (.600) at the foul line while turning the ball over 13 times.

Evansville matched the Bears on the glass, 26-26, but shot just 40.8 percent (20-of-49) overall and 6-of-19 (.316) from long range. The Aces were also 10-of-14 (.714) at the line.

Missouri State scored 21 points off Evansville’s 14 turnovers.

The Bears, who have six of their last seven, continue their road swing Sunday at first-place Loyola (3 p.m.) before playing three of their final four Valley games at JQH Arena.