Jacksonville rode a red-hot second-half shooting performance to a double-digit advantage over Missouri State, then held off the Bears' frantic rally to notch a 64-58 victory Monday evening at JQH Arena. JU's Keith McDougald led the way for the visitors with 17 points, including a critical bucket with 34 ticks left on the clock that helped stem the Bears' late push.
The Dolphins (2-2), who shot .520 (13-of-25) from the field after intermission, led by as many as 14 points before the Bears whittled the margin to one point with just under two-and-a-half minutes to play. After a pair of Keith Pickens free throws made it a 59-58 contest and McDougald misfired from beyond the arc, MSU would have four shots at knocking down the go-ahead field goal, but the Dolphin defense would hold.
Following the Bears' third offensive rebound of the possession, McDougald finally corralled Gavin Thurman's three-point miss, then drove the lane and converted from close range to give JU some much-needed breathing room with just over a half-minute to play.
MSU failed to get a shot off on its next trip down the court, and McDougald would knock down a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left on the clock to ice the victory.
The close finish came on the heels of a torrid Jacksonville shooting effort in the middle stages of the game that saw the visitors threaten to blow the contest wide open. JU caught fire from the field midway through the opening half to turn the tide in a back-and-forth contest. The Dolphins used a 13-4 scoring run to take control of the game and shot .458 (11-of-24) from the floor in the opening half to build a 30-26 halftime advantage.
The visitors kept the heat on the Bears to start the second stanza by cashing in on eight of their first 12 field goal tries to stretch the margin to double figures.
Five different Dolphins scored as part of a 12-2 run that turned a four-point game into a 46-32 advantage for JU--the largest lead of the night for either club. Dylan Fritsch delivered the biggest blow during the outburst, sinking a 3-pointer with 14:59 left on the clock to hand the Dolphins their first double-digit lead at 42-32. Kordario Fleming added an easy lay-in, and Tyler Alderman knocked down an 18-foot jumper to cap the run.
But, trailing 52-38 with just under nine minutes to play, the Bears began their comeback, as Thurman scored five straight points in a span of 37 seconds, and Anthony Downing converted 1-of-2 free-throw attempts to pull MSU to within eight. The two teams traded free throws until Pickens went on a personal 7-0 run to slice the Dolphins lead to just three points.
The Bears' junior scored in the paint with 6:08 to go to start the spurt, then converted two free throws before banking home a trey from the left wing to make it a 56-53 game with 4:43 to play.
But McDougald had an answer for Jacksonville, responding with a long three of his own on the Dolphins next possession, temporarily giving JU a six-point lead once again.
Dorrian Williams came right back with another long-distance delivery for MSU just 13 seconds later and, following a key steal, Pickens hit two more free throws to make it a one-point game.
But that would be as close as the Bears would get, as McDougald's clutch basket started JU's 5-0, game-clinching run, dropping MSU to 1-2 on the season.
The big finish came after a nip-and-tuck opening that saw both clubs struggle to find enough traction to take over the game. The Bears took an early 5-2 lead behind a Christian Kirk jumper and a Downing 3-pointer, but the Dolphins responded behind the play of McDougald, who accounted for five of their first seven points, including a trey at the 17:43 mark to give his club its first lead of the night.
Neither team led by more than three until seven unanswered Jacksonville points midway through the half handed the visitors a five-point advantage. With the Bears holding an 11-9 lead, Fleming's lay-up at the 13:23 mark started what would ultimately turn into an 13-4 spurt for JU.
Marcellous Bell's three and a McDougald jumper with 10:41 left on the clock started a stretch that saw the Dolphins hit on five of six tries from the floor to make it a 16-11 game. Glenn Powell's bucket with just over eight minutes to play capped the run and gave JU its biggest margin of the half at 22-15.
MSU fought back with five straight points from Downing in just over a minute to pull back to within two points, but JU would open its lead back up to five in the closing minutes of the half before settling for a four-point edge at the break.
Missouri State struggled on the offensive end for the second consecutive game, finishing 19-of-55 (.345) from the field, including just 6-of-21 (.286) from three-point range. The Bears had an equally as tough time at the foul line, going 14-of-24 (.583) on free throws.
Led by McDougald's performance and 10 points from Glenn Powell, Jacksonville shot 49 percent (19-of-55) from the floor for the game and hit 11-of-14 (.786) free-throw attempts.
Downing paced the Bears with 15 points, while Pickens finished with 11 and Kirk added 10.
The Bears continue play in the Hoops For Hope Classic Wednesday night with a 7:05 p.m. tilt against Malone at JQH Arena.