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Missouri Valley Notebook

December 24, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Missouri Valley Conference Notebook

by Neal Heston

Missouri Valley lookin’ beautiful

Going by the Mid-Major rankings released by ESPN last week, the road to the MVC title is way up for grabs. Four teams from the Missouri Valley are featured in the top ten by espn.com.

With an 8-0 start under its belt, Creighton leads the pack at number two behind Gonzaga. Preseason MVC favorite Wichita State is close behind at number four, defending conference champion Southern Illinois is ranked fifth, and the surprising Bradley Braves follow close behind at number eight. The four teams have combined for a 30-6 record thus far.

Though the rankings are gaining attention for the MVC, each team will likely begin slipping as everyone beats up on each other in conference play.

Cyclone claims another victim

Iowa State dodged another bullet against an MVC opponent last weekend. After holding off a Northern Iowa rally earlier this season, the Cyclones shut down a late rally by Dr. Tom’s Drake Bulldogs on Saturday. Drake rallied for a 66-65 lead in the second half after falling behind by 15 early. Iowa State was able to overcome 27 turnovers though to finally put the Bulldogs to sleep.

Cuffle reaches milestone

With a 27-point effort against Western Kentucky, Clint Cuffle became just the 38th player in Evansville history to score 1000 career points. The senior is averaging 14.6 points a game so far this season – down slightly from last season’s average of 16.5.

Player of the Week

Though the Braves went 1-1 last week, I chose Phillip Gilbert as the conference Player of the Week. His 22 points propelled Bradley past Loyola -Chicago, and his 25 points nearly did the same thing against Pepperdine.

Newcomer of the Week

I take Southwest Missouri State’s Blake Ahearn this week. His 19 and 21-point efforts aided in the Bears getting back on the winning track after a long slump.

MVC Game of the Week

It wasn’t easy, but Northern Iowa escaped out of Normal with a 64-61 win over Illinois State. In the conference opener for both squads, UNI jumped out to a 50-34 lead but was outscored 23-7 during the next several minutes as Illinois State managed to tie the contest at 57. Brooks McKowen nailed a three to give the lead back to the Panthers, and Chris Foster sealed the win for UNI with two free throws.

Ben Jacobson led all players with 22 points for Northern Iowa, and David Gruber recorded a double double with 11 points and 10 boards. Trey Guidry led the way for Illinois State with 13 points.

The Redbirds had owned this series previous to Saturday, winning five of its last six against Northern Iowa. UNI hadn’t won in Normal since the 1998-99 season.

Team Notes

Bradley (7-3 / 0-0)

Phillip Gilbert was one of five Bradley players in double figures with 22 points in last Wednesday’s 79-63 victory over Loyola-Chicago. Marcellus Sommerville added another 13 for the Braves. Bradley took advantage of a Loyola-Chicago team that shot only 36% from the field and hit just three of 26 treys.

Pepperdine’s Glen McGowan broke Bradley’s heart on Saturday as he hit a game-winning dunk for an 81-80 win. The Braves let a 16-point lead vanish, but impressive numbers were still put up. Gilbert tallied 25 points while James Gillingham added another 24, and Sommerville recorded a double double with 17 points and 11 boards.

The holidays bring a light schedule for Bradley in the near future. The Braves will head to Las Vegas on Dec. 28 to face UNLV.

Creighton (8-0 / 0-0)

The Bluejays sit alone on the perch as the only remaining unbeaten team in the MVC. Wins over Arkansas-Little Rock and Wyoming have Creighton sitting pretty at 8-0. Nate Funk scored 17 points in the 91-66 win over Arkansas-Little Rock, and Brody Deren also recorded a double double with 12 points and 11 boards.

Against Wyoming, the Bluejays held on for dear life as Wyoming stormed back from a 21-point deficit but could only get as close as three. Joe Dabbert led Creighton with 19 points.

Creighton’s next contest won’t take place until the team’s MVC opener against Southwest Missouri State on Dec. 30 in Omaha.

Drake (3-4 / 0-1)

Iowa State traveled down to Des Moines on Saturday and won at Drake for the first time since 1995. The Cyclones rolled to a 15-point lead at the half before Drake could put together a late rally. Nick Grant gave the Bulldogs a brief lead with his free throw late in the second half, but Iowa State recovered for an 83-77 victory. Joshua Robinson tallied 18 points for the Bulldogs and Klayton Korver added another 11 in the losing cause.

Drake will be off this week before getting back into action on Dec. 29 at Texas A&M-Corpus Christian.

Evansville (1-6 / 0-0)

Holding onto leads was too tough of a task for the Purple Aces to handle in both of its losses last week. Evansville lost a seven-point lead in a 69-66 loss to Mississippi last Wednesday, and a nine-point lead vanished in a 92-82 loss to Western Kentucky on Saturday.

Four players recorded double figure scoring totals for Evansville against Mississippi. Clint Cuffle led the way with 27 points in a game where UE connected for 12 treys. Cuffle has now scored over 1000 career points for the Purple Aces – a feat accomplished only 37 previous times.

The only contest scheduled for this week is a date against Purdue in West Lafayette on Saturday, Dec. 27.

Illinois State (4-4 / 0-1)

Vince Green sank two free throws in overtime to send the Redbirds past Western Kentucky, 66-65 last Tuesday. Marcus Arnold led Illinois State with 23 points.

The Redbirds overcame a 16-point deficit against Northern Iowa on Saturday, but the rally fell short in a 64-61 loss. Trey Guidry tallied 13 points for Illinois State in its Missouri Valley opener.

A road contest at Southern Illinois on Sunday is the only game scheduled for this week.

Indiana State (4-4 / 0-0)

The Sycamores were on both sides of thrashings last week in a 57-39 loss to Butler and an 87-60 win over Tennessee-Martin. With 23 points, David Moss was the only ISU player who could find the basket against Butler. The team shot just 30% from the field. Moss came back on Monday night for a career-high 30 points against Tennessee-Martin, and ISU more than doubled its point total from the other night. The Sycamores connected on 13 treys in the blowout.

Indiana State will have an opportunity to rest until facing off against Evansville on New Year’s Eve.

Northern Iowa (5-3 / 1-0)

The only contest for UNI last week was its MVC opener against Illinois State on Saturday. Ben Jacobson took charge with 22 points, and David Gruber recorded a double double for the Panthers with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

UNI has a 10-day break before getting back into action against Siena on Dec. 30.

Southern Illinois (7-1 / 1-0)

Murray State rallied from a 13-point deficit at the half last Wednesday to hand the Salukis their first loss of the season. Darren Brooks sunk 12 points for SIU in the loss. Brooks took charge in two Saluki victories over Wright State (79-73) and Montana (82-71). He connected for 20 and 26 points, respectively.

Illinois State comes to town on Dec. 28 for a 2:05 tip-off.

Southwest Missouri State (7-4 / 0-1)

The Bears got back on the winning track last week with a double overtime victory over Missouri-Kansas City last Wednesday. Blake Ahearn tallied 19 points for SMS in the 80-77 triumph.

Ahearn led the way again with 21 points in the Bear’s 70-59 win over Saint Louis on Saturday. Tamar Maclin also recorded a double double for SMS with 13 points and 13 boards.

SMS will try to stay on the winning track as they travel to Creighton on Dec. 30.

Wichita State (8-2 / 1-0)

A 66-58 victory over Tulsa gave Wichita State its first win against Tulsa since the 1992-93 season. The Shockers came out strong, building a 14-2 lead and were able to hold on for the big win. Jamar Howard was good for 23 points on the night.

Just like the rest of the conference, the Shockers will take it easy for a while before getting back into play on Dec. 30 against Oral Roberts.


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