MOLINE, Ill. — Missouri State claimed its 11th Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship and secured a trip to its 15th NCAA Tournament with a 94-79 victory over 21st-ranked and top-seeded Drake Sunday afternoon at TaxSlayer Center.
Junior Alexa Willard scored a career-high 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting to win tournament MVP honors, Sydney Manning matched a career high with 14 points off the bench, including a trio of 3-pointers, while Brice Calip (13) and Danielle Gitzen (12) also scored in double figures to help the Lady Bears (23-9) shoot 48 percent from the field in their 22nd victory in the last 24 games. Gitzen also made the all-tournament team after averaging 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists in three games.
The No. 21 Bulldogs (27-6) began the game with five 3-pointers in the first four minutes, and hit a sixth trey at the first quarter buzzer for a 22-21 lead after 10 minutes.
On the 114th anniversary of the school’s founding, Missouri State opened the second quarter on a 6-0 run and never trailed again, with Abby Hipp scoring seven of her nine points in the period before Manning hit a trey at the halftime horn fo a 42-35 advantage.
The Lady Bears dominated the third quarter behind 15 points from Willard, who hit a pair of 3-pointers for double-digit leads, while Manning and Gitzen went back-to-back from distance to cap an 8-0 run at 61-45 with 3:17 to play. Willard scored the final five points to make it 68-47, but Drake opened the final frame on a 9-0 spurt to cut the margin to 12 points.
The Bulldogs got as close as 83-74 with 1:55 remaining, and a very physical fourth quarter included a combined 24 personal fouls and 36 free throw attempts. The Lady Bears went 17-for-22 at the line in the period and 24-for-33 in the game.
Missouri State owned a 38-34 rebounding advantage and swiped a season-high 16 steals off 24 Drake turnovers, including five from Jasmine Franklin and four from Danielle Gitzen. Franklin added two blocks to break the MSU freshman record with 44 on the season.
Gitzen added five assists, and Hipp and Calip had four apiece to give MSU 19 helpers against 12 turnovers.
MSU will host a watch party Monday at JQH Arena for the unveiling of the NCAA bracket. Doors open at 5:15 p.m. for the 6 p.m. show, and the event is free and open to the public.