ST. LOUIS – Missouri State senior Keandre Cook poured in 26 points, including 17 in the second half, but the Bears could not counter a pivotal run by Valparaiso early in the second half in an 89-82 loss in the MVC Tournament semifinals here Saturday.
MSU (16-17) dominated nearly every statistical category, including more field goals, 3-pointers and rebounds than its opponent. But when the Crusaders parlayed a 12-2 run into an 11-point lead with 14:56 to play, the Bears had few answers until the final minute of the game.
Seventh-seeded Valpo (19-15) got 29 points from Javon Freeman Liberty who was 10-of-18 from the field with nine free throws, nine rebounds and five assists. John Kiser added 17 points for the Crusaders who advanced to play Bradley in Sunday’s Missouri Valley Conference championship game.
After Valpo’s game-changing run, the Bears worked to chip away at a deficit that teetered between nine and 13 points until Cook’s trey with 1:01 to play made it an 83-74 game. MSU would get a pair of free throws from Lamont West and then a non-traditional three-point play by Tulio Da Silva at the 30-second mark that got the Bears within 84-79.
On Valpo’s next possession, Kiser made just 1-of-2 free throws, which the Bears transitioned into a long three by Cook to make it an 85-82 contest with 20 seconds to play. But down the stretch, the Crusaders tacked on four decisive free throws to put it out of reach. In fact, Valparaiso found a familiar home at the foul line late in the game, scoring all but two of its points in the final seven minutes of the contest from the stripe and going 11-for-16 from the line in that span.
West finished with 15 points and three triples for MSU, while Gaige Prim scored 12 points. Da Silva and Isiaih Mosley tacked on 11 points apiece for coach Dana Ford’s squad. Da Silva capped his final game at Missouri State with a team-high 8 rebounds to become just the fifth Bear over the last 20 years to score 300 points and snag 200 rebounds in back-to-back seasons.
Missouri State finished 30-of-62 (.484) from the field and 10-of-23 (.435) from 3-point range. The Bears also converted 12-of-15 (.800) free throws while out-rebounding the Crusaders by a 38-33 margin with just 10 turnovers.
Valpo’s unlikely run to the finals included a 29-of-60 (.483) shooting effort with 9-of-24 (.275) makes from beyond the arc and 22-of-31 (.710) free throws to go with 7 turnovers and 8 steals.
In the first half, Missouri State used a 12-0 run to erase an early four-point deficit and take a 23-15 lead on a 3-pointer by Cook at the 8:59 mark. Moments later, Mosley’s triple gave the Bears their biggest lead of the half, 28-19 with 6:14 left before the intermission.
However, it took Valparaiso just 64 seconds to erase Missouri State’s lead and recapture the edge with a blitzkrieg 10-0 run that included threes from Donovan Clay and Kiser. The Crusaders got the line six times before the half and went into the break with a narrow, 40-38, lead.