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Missouri Valley Notebook

January 23, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Missouri Valley Conference Notebook

by Neal Heston

Panthers feast on Bluejays

Creighton was one of seven top 25 teams to fall off its perch last Wednesday as it lost to Northern Iowa, 82-73.

For the second time in just over a month, a ranked team walked into the UNI-Dome at Cedar Falls undefeated and having just cracked into the AP Top 25. And for a second time, a team walked out of the Dome very confused and with its first loss. Then 24th-ranked Iowa also traveled to Cedar Falls on Dec. 9 only to leave with its first loss of the season.

The Bluejays failed to continue their best start in 60 years and fell to second place in the MVC behind Southern Illinois. Northern Iowa got back in the MVC race after two frustrating shooting performances in losses at Wichita State and Southwest Missouri State.

After falling behind 22-13 early in the first half, the Bluejays rallied and had seemed to regain themselves after a 15-2 run. Northern Iowa sophomore guard Ben Jacobson started the Panthers on another run with his trey though, and UNI cruised to the half with a 44-34 advantage.

Led by the hot shooting of Brooks McKowen, the Panthers went through the first 10 minutes of the second frame with ease to take a 21-point lead. McKowen, who tacked on a career-high 24 points for UNI, didn’t seem to care where he was standing behind the arc. Two of his six treys were nailed from way downtown. Combined, Northern Iowa tied a team record in the UNI-Dome with 12 treys.

Creighton, who escaped Normal, Ill. with a 56-55 win over Illinois State last week, managed to chip a huge chunk of the lead off but could only close the gap to as little as six. Center Brody Deren was the only Bluejay to score in double figures with 14 points. Sophomore forward Jimmy Motz gave CU quality time off of the bench with nine points in seven minutes of play. He went perfect from behind the arc, hitting three of three shots.

With victories over Evansville on Wednesday and Bradley on Saturday, Southern Illinois (12-2 / 6-0) has taken sole possession of first place in the MVC for the time being. Creighton rebounded for a victory over Evansville on Saturday to keep second place. Northern Iowa (9-5 / 4-2) kept on rolling with a 20-point victory over Drake over the weekend. Four teams currently sit in a tie for fourth place with 3-3 conference marks.

Quietly winning

With all the attention Creighton has gained over the last couple weeks, everyone forgot about Southern Illinois. Yet, the Salukis keep on rolling and are in good position after the first third of the season.

Not only is Southern Illinois sitting alone in first place, but they are getting it done at record pace. With a 6-0 conference mark, SIU has tied the school’s best MVC start ever. The last time the Salukis started off this well was the 1993-94 season, which concluded with a second-place finish. A 7-0 start will have to be earned though as Southern Illinois heads to Normal to face Illinois State. Creighton and Northern Iowa have managed to escape Normal with single-digit victories; Southwest Missouri State wasn’t as fortunate.

Dr. Tom reaches another milestone

With a win over Illinois State last week, Drake head coach Tom Davis recorded his 550th career coaching victory. That mark is good for 11th on the all-time list. Davis has the young Bulldogs at a surprising 3-3 MVC mark so far this season.

Who do you guard?

Northern Iowa has enjoyed recent success due to a balanced attack. Through Sunday, four players were averaging double figures in scoring: Ben Jacobson (13.6), David Gruber (12), Matt Schneiderman (11.2) and Erik Crawford (10). Brooks McKowen is also very close to becoming a fifth, putting up 9.9 points per contest.

Player AND Newcomer of the Week

Brooks McKowen, Northern Iowa

For the second week in a row, this week’s honors were swept. This time it’s UNI’s Brooks McKowen. The freshman guard nailed six treys and contributed a career-high 24 points in a huge win over Creighton last week. In addition to the treys, he hit six of seven free throws to carry a UNI team that was struggling at the line. McKowen connected for two more shots from behind the arc in a win over intrastate rival Drake on Saturday.

Games to watch this week

Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Creighton at Wichita State

Wichita State has dropped three of its last four home contests. Creighton will look to make it four of five as the Bluejays try to keep pace with MVC leader Southern Illinois. The Shockers can’t afford to drop very many more games. With three conference losses, the preseason favorites are already three games out of first place. A loss Wednesday could seriously jeopardize their chances for a run at the regular season title. Creighton is 4-1 on the road this season.

Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Southern Illinois at Illinois State

Yes, Illinois State has just one conference victory and is 5-9 on the year, but the Redbirds are no fun to play in Normal. Southern Illinois will have to fight to remain unbeaten in league play as ISU is 5-2 at Redbird Arena. The two losses have been by a combined four points to Creighton and Northern Iowa.

Touring the Valley

Bradley (8-9 / 1-5)

Last week: lost to Wichita State 66-53, lost to Southern Illinois 72-62

Injuries are plaguing the Braves at the worst time of the year. In addition to Phillip Gilbert being sidelined until the end of January, James Gillingham and Marcello Robinson are also battling the injury bug. Gillingham missed last Wednesday’s contest against Wichita State (a 66-53 defeat) with back spasms. He did return against Southern Illinois on Saturday to score 13 in a 10-point Bradley loss. Robinson added a bone bruise in his left foot to a long list of injuries. He is also still playing and tacked on seven points in 28 minutes against SIU.

This week’s schedule won’t help the Braves at all as they head to Southwest Missouri State on Wednesday and Northern Iowa on Saturday.

Creighton (13-1 / 5-1)

Last week: lost to Northern Iowa 82-73, defeated Evansville 72-53

The Bluejays showed why they are ranked in the top 25 (for now) as they rallied back from a 21-point deficit at Northern Iowa. Trailing 66-45, the Bluejays cut UNI’s lead to 76-70 with under a minute to play. There wasn’t enough time left though as UNI ended Creighton’s best start in 60 years by handing the Bluejays an 82-73 loss. Brody Deren led the birds against Evansville on Saturday as Creighton rebounded for a 72-53 win over the Purple Aces. Deren tallied 15 points, and Joe Dabbert contributed with eight rebounds for the Bluejays.

The ‘Jays have a tough week ahead of them beginning on Wednesday as they visit a Wichita State team that is looking to get back on the winning track. From there, Creighton will host Illinois State on Saturday. The last meeting between Illinois State and Creighton two weeks ago went in favor of the Bluejays, 56-55.

Drake (7-7 / 3-3)

Last week: defeated Illinois State 59-55, lost to Northern Iowa 76-56

The Bulldogs are searching for consistency this season, and Dr. Tom Davis is aware of his team’s problem. “We’re probably going to be one of those clubs that will be up and down all season long,” he said after a loss at Northern Iowa. Since winning three straight, Drake has dropped two of three. They shot just 23% from the field in the first half at Northern Iowa and converted only 32% for the game. The offense struggled earlier in the week against Illinois State as well, but the defense forced ISU into 24 turnovers en route to a 59-55 win. Only one Illinois State player was able to score in double figures.

Action for the Bulldogs this week includes a road trip to Indiana State on Thursday and a home date against Southwest Missouri State on Sunday.

Evansville (2-12 / 1-5)

Last week: lost to Southern Illinois 81-63, lost to Creighton 72-53

The Purple Aces had as tough a schedule possible, facing the conference’s first and second place teams on the road. That didn’t help in turning around the fortunes for UE in 81-63 and 72-53 losses. Andre Burton gave strong efforts for UE during the two-game stretch, averaging 19.5 points per game.

The slate won’t get any easier this week as Northern Iowa comes to town on Wednesday and Wichita State on Saturday. Evansville has never lost to Northern Iowa at home (11-0). Wichita State will be hungry for a win.

Illinois State (5-9 / 1-5)

Last week: lost to Drake 59-55, defeated Southwest Missouri State 54-42

The defense continues to confuse opposing offenses as the Redbirds haven’t allowed 60 points since losing to Illinois in overtime on Jan. 3. Unfortunately, the Redbird’s offense hasn’t scored 60 points since Jan. 3 either. ISU halted a six-game skid against Southwest Missouri State on Sunday after allowing the Bears to score just 42 points – a record low at Redbird Arena. Marcus Arnold tacked on 16 for the Redbirds.

ISU has a difficult road ahead of them this week as they host league leader Southern Illinois on Wednesday and travel to Creighton on Saturday. Revenge will be on the mind against Creighton. The Bluejays won the earlier meeting between the teams two weeks ago, 56-55.

Indiana State (7-7 / 3-3)

Last week: lost to Southwest Missouri State 69-63, defeated Wichita State 64-63

After dropping a close contest to SMS on Thursday, the Sycamores used the help of 10 treys to stun Wichita State on Saturday. David Moss tallied 14 points and grabbed nine boards for ISU as the Sycamores pinned the preseason favorites with their third conference loss in six games.

The Drake Bulldogs and their pressure defense will come to Hulman Center on Thursday, and then the Sycamores will head to Southern Illinois on Sunday.

Northern Iowa (9-5 / 4-2)

Last week: defeated Creighton 82-73, defeated Drake 76-56

A top-notch win was followed by a sloppy win for the Panthers, but nonetheless, they were wins. UNI used a home-record 12 treys, six by freshman Brooks McKowen, to take down 24th-ranked Creighton on Wednesday. The Panthers managed to hold off a late Creighton rally to defeat their second nationally-ranked team in just over a month. Drake traveled to Cedar Falls on Saturday and forced UNI into 19 turnovers, but 50% shooting from the field for the Panthers was enough for a 76-56 win.

The Panthers travel to Evansville on Wednesday, where they have never won. From there, they will host injury-plagued Bradley on Saturday.

Southern Illinois (12-2 / 6-0)

Last week: defeated Evansville 81-63, defeated Bradley 72-62

The Salukis have tied a school-record for the best start in MVC play at 6-0. SIU struggled in the first half during both contests but managed to pull away for victories. Darren Brooks reached double figures in both games and averaged 13 during the stretch.

SIU will head to Illinois State on Wednesday. The Redbirds have held their last four opponents under 60 points. The Salukis managed only 57 in their 57-40 win over ISU on Dec. 28. From there the Salukis will host Indiana State on Sunday.

Southwest Missouri State (11-6 / 3-3)

Last week: defeated Indiana State 69-63, lost to Illinois State 54-42

After escaping with a win over Indiana State earlier in the week, SMS shot just 31% from the field while managing only 42 points against Illinois State on Sunday. No player scored in double figures for SMS, and the Bears managed only one trey compared to ISU’s seven.

The Bears will host Bradley on Wednesday and then will head to Des Moines to face Drake on Sunday.

Wichita State (10-6 / 3-3)

Last week: defeated Bradley 66-53, lost to Indiana State 64-63

The Shockers took advantage of an injury-plagued Bradley team and then turned around to lose against Indiana State at home. It was the third home loss in four games for WSU. Strong efforts were given on the part of the Shockers though. Randy Burns, Fridge Holman and Rob Kampman all reached double figures for WSU in both contests.

Wichita State will look to get back on track, but it won’t be easy as Creighton comes to town on Wednesday. The Shockers will head to Evansville from there for a Saturday contest.


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