SPRINGFIELD – Led by a 27-point performance from senior Keandre Cook, Missouri State used a dominant first-half effort to pace a 67-60 win over visiting Valparaiso here Thursday and lift the Bears to their second straight Missouri Valley Conference victory.
MSU (10-10, 4-3 MVC) held the Crusaders to just 31.8 percent shooting for the game and dominated the glass with a 47-34 rebounding advantage, limiting Valpo to just 6 second-chance points on the evening.
Valparaiso (10-10, 3-4) was led by Mileek McMillan with 12 points while Javon Freeman-Liberty and Daniel Sackey recorded 11 points apiece for the visitors.
Missouri State dominated the first half, taking a 7-0 lead from the start and building a 15-4 advantage less than seven minutes into the game. Valparaiso used a 7-2 run to get back within 17-11 with 11 minutes remaining in the opening half, but the Bears responded with a 16-2 surge to close out the opening stanza and take a 36-16 advantage into the intermission.
Valparaiso was just 6-for-32 (.188) from the field in the opening half, including a dismal 2-of-20 from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the Bears got 13 points from Cook in the first period, pacing a 47-percent shooting half for the home side.
In the second half, Valpo knocked down three treys by three different players in the first seven-and-a-half minutes to trim its deficit to 42-29. Cook, Isiaih Mosley and Tulio Da Silva each got into the scoring act for the Bears over the next three minutes to keep the Bears out in front by 12.
After Da Silva’s put-back made it a 48-36 game with 9:10 to go, the Bears went more than four minutes without a field goal at a key spot in the game to let the visitors inch back in it. Eron Gordon led the charge for the Crusaders with a transition bucket and three free throws. Later, when McMillan scored six points in two possessions, he made it a 57-49 contest with just over two minutes remaining.
Cook, who finished 10-of-14 at the foul line, made six free throws in the final three minutes, while Gaige Prim and Ford Cooper Jr. pitched in some clutch charity shots down the stretch to keep the Crusaders just out of reach. Cook ended another four-minute field goal drought for Missouri State with a thundering dunk with 46 seconds left in the game that pushed the Bears’ lead back to double figures, 63-53.
The visitors scrambled for seven points in the game’s final 41 seconds, with five points in that run by Freeman-Liberty, to get as close as 65-58. But Lamont West’s free throws with 14 seconds to go were enough to seal the deal and push Missouri State to 7-3 at home this season.
The Bears were just 6-of-25 (.240) from the field in the second half, but finished the game 21-of-57 (.368). MSU was also 7-of-22 (.318) from beyond the arc and 18-of-23 (.783) from the free throw line on the night.
Da Silva led MSU with 8 rebounds, while Ja’Monta Black issued a game-high 3 assists.
Valpo, which attempted a JQH Arena record 39 3-pointers, was 21-of-66 (.318) from the field, 8-of-39 (.205) from long range and 10-of-13 (.769) at the stripe.
The Bears embark on a critical two-game Valley road swing through Iowa beginning Sunday (3 p.m.) at Drake. Missouri State then travels to UNI on Wednesday (6 p.m.) before returning to JQH Arena on Saturday, Feb. 1 against Indiana State.
Tickets for the Indiana State game, and all home contests, are available at MissouriStateBears.com, or by visiting the Old Missouri Bank Box Office at JQH Arena, (417) 836-7678, during regular box office hours.