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Missouri Valley Notebook

February 10, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Missouri Valley Conference Notebook

by Neal Heston

Salukis rolling, Bluejays falling

Southern Illinois just keeps on rolling, accomplishing the unthinkable at Creighton’s Qwest Center on Saturday. The Salukis halted the nation’s third-longest home-winning streak at 28 while improving their perfect MVC record to 12-0.

The game went back-and-forth with several lead changes and was at 61-60 in Southern Illinois’ direction with 1.5 seconds left. Nate Funk mishandled an inbounds pass from Creighton’s Michael Lindeman though, and SIU escaped Omaha with the win. For the sixth consecutive game, Darren Brooks took charge for the Salukis with 16 points while also grabbing eight boards. Creighton was led with 13 points apiece from Brody Deren and Johnny Mathies.

Southern Illinois continues its bid to be the first team to go unbeaten in the conference since Bradley did in the 1985-86 campaign. A win over Drake Wednesday would send SIU to the fourth-best start ever in league play.

Creighton (17-2 / 9-3) took a serious hit not only in the conference race, but also in building a strong resume for the NCAA Tournament. The Bluejays will likely have to win out in the regular season, or the conference tournament will be their only hope. With road games still looming at Kent State, SIU and Southwest Missouri State, that won’t be an easy task.

It’s about time!

For the first time in almost 20 years, Southern Illinois cracked into the AP Top 25, by debuting at number 23. And to think, all it took was 10 consecutive wins, the fifth-best start ever by an MVC team and a win at Creighton. Who would of thought that’s all it would take? SIU also crept into the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll at number 24.

Keep him off the line

That’s what opponents are saying about Southwest Missouri State’s Blake Ahearn. The freshman guard has hit an MVC-record 54 consecutive free throws and leads the nation in accuracy, connecting on 86 of 87 from the charity stripe.

The MVC Tournament if the season ended today:

First-round byes would go out to Southern Illinois, Creighton, Wichita State, Southwest Missouri State, Northern Iowa and Drake.

The first round would pit Illinois State against Indiana State and Evansville against Bradley.

Bubble Watch

In: Southern Illinois

Bubble Bursts: Creighton, Wichita State

Player of the Week

Darren Brooks, Southern Illinois

For the second consecutive week, Brooks took the honor of MVC Player of the Week. He averaged 15.5 points and 8 rebounds in two Southern Illinois victories.

Newcomer of the Week

Eric Gray, Indiana State

Though Indiana State suffered two defeats last week, Gray earned MVC Newcomer of the Week. Averaging less than five points per game, Gray came out of nowhere to score a career-high 25 points against Drake and another 20 against Northern Iowa.

Games of the Week

Southwest Missouri State at Northern Iowa, Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
Creighton at Drake, Saturday, 7:05 p.m.

Actually, any game that SMS is involved in this week should be a good one. Unfortunately, neither will be on television though. The contest against Northern Iowa will break up a tie in the standings. SMS has taken the last 14 meetings over UNI, but the last two games have been decided by one and two points. The Bears should also be involved in another barnburner on Saturday when Southern Illinois comes to town for a 2:05 p.m. tip off. SMS went to Southern Illinois last week and lost by just seven.

The game of the week on MVC-TV will feature Creighton at Drake, Saturday at 7:05 p.m. Drake is never an easy place to play, and the Bulldog’s defense won’t make it any easier. This will be an important road contest for Creighton as the Bluejays can’t afford any more losses.

Touring the Valley

Bradley (10-13 / 3-9)

Last week: defeated Evansville 68-60, lost to Wichita State 78-57

After picking up two consecutive victories, the Braves hit a brick wall at Wichita State on Sunday. Only one Bradley player, Marcellus Sommerville, reached double figures in scoring with 11 points. Sommerville put up 22 points in the win over Evansville, and James Gillingham added another 21 to go along with four steals. The contest with Evansville was relatively clean as Bradley committed just nine turnovers and stole 13.

Though a 3-9 conference mark is only good for an eighth-place tie right now, the Braves are still just two games behind Drake for the sixth seed, the lowest seed to receive an opening round bye. This week won’t be easy to make up ground though with a trip to Omaha Wednesday to face Creighton and a home contest with Northern Iowa on Saturday. Bradley dropped the previous meetings with those two squads earlier this season.

Creighton (17-3 / 9-3)

Last week: defeated Northern Iowa 58-47, lost to Southern Illinois 61-60

A win over Southern Illinois would have been huge Saturday. It is doubtful the Bluejays care about having their home-winning streak snapped than having their case for an NCAA Tournament appearance being damaged. And the most brutal part of the schedule is yet to come. The week started off well as CU dominated the second half against Northern Iowa, holding the Panthers to 32 percent shooting in a win Wednesday. The contest on Saturday was a well-played game by the Bluejays too, but they were on the bitter end when all was said and done.

This week’s slate includes a home contest with a stronger Bradley team on Wednesday and a trip to Des Moines on Saturday for a challenge with Drake.

Drake (9-11 / 5-7)

Last week: defeated Indiana State 69-66, lost to Evansville 77-68

Drake is clinging to sixth place in the standings, but they will have to hold on for dear life as the Bulldogs face the top two teams in the conference this week. Drake managed to squeeze by Indiana State despite hitting just 21 of 32 free throws. The Bulldogs looked poised to tally back-to-back victories before Evansville rallied to beat Drake Saturday.

It’s just not fair to be a Bulldog right now. Drake will face two teams this week who are nearly unbeatable in conference play with a road trip to Southern Illinois on Wednesday and a home contest with Creighton Saturday.

Evansville (4-16 / 3-9)

Last week: lost to Bradley 68-60, defeated Drake 77-68

The Purple Aces continue to battle but are still losing some close ones. Clint Cuffle scored 16 points and grabbed seven boards, but it wasn’t enough to get past Bradley. UE was also forced into 19 turnovers compared to the Brave’s nine. After falling behind early to Drake at home on Saturday, the Purple Aces rallied. Lucious Wagner came off the bench for 19 points and Bradley Strickland added another 16.

This week’s schedule includes a home game with Illinois State on Wednesday and a trip to Wichita State on Saturday.

Illinois State (6-14 / 2-10)

Last week: lost to Wichita State 70-50, lost to Southwest Missouri State 69-57

ISU wasn’t themselves last week in two lopsided losses. The 20-point loss to Wichita State was the Redbird’s worst home defeat of the season, and even Saturday’s loss on the road was surprising. After holding Southwest Missouri State to 42 points last month, ISU let SMS get to its best offensive show in nearly three weeks. Marcus Arnold hit double figures in scoring during both contests, averaging 14 during the week.

The Redbirds will get to travel through the bottom of the standings against Evansville and Indiana State this week, but the games won’t be easy. The contest at Evansville will take place Wednesday, and Indiana State will stop by Normal on Saturday.

Indiana State (8-12 / 4-8)

Last week: lost to Drake 69-66, lost to Northern Iowa 68-64

The Sycamores were a total of eight points away from leaving Iowa with two wins. In both games, ISU fell behind early and rallied in the second half, but the deficits were just too large to overcome. Eric Gray was good for 25 points against Drake, and Amani Daanish grabbed 11 boards. Gray put up another 20 against UNI on Saturday.

ISU will welcome the Wichita State Shockers to town on Wednesday and then will travel to Normal, Ill. on Saturday to take on Illinois State.

Northern Iowa (12-8 / 7-5)

Last week: lost to Creighton 58-47, defeated Indiana State 68-64

Northern Iowa finally found some offense against Indiana State to end its longest losing streak of the season at three games. The Panthers nailed eight of 12 treys in the first half en route to the victory. After managing a mere 32 percent from the field in the loss to Creighton, UNI came out hot against ISU, connecting on 14 of 24 shots in the first 20 minutes. Freshman Grant Stout grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds in the win.

Southwest Missouri State will visit the UNI-Dome on Wednesday in a game that will pit the two teams who are tied for fourth place. From there the Panthers will head to Bradley on Saturday. UNI won the last contest against the Braves, who were still without senior guard Phillip Gilbert at the time.

Southern Illinois (18-2 / 12-0)

Last week: defeated Creighton 61-60

The Salukis made a statement last Saturday, and the nation is finally catching on. This team is for real. SIU went on the road and won at the toughest place in the Missouri Valley (besides Carbondale, of course). The win finally pushed the Salukis over the top and into the AP top 25.

Now Southern Illinois will try to accomplish what Creighton couldn’t when they cracked the top 25 last month – win the next game. Doing that would mean beating the Drake Bulldogs at home Wednesday. From there the Salukis will head to Southwest Missouri State on Saturday.

Southwest Missouri State (15-8 / 7-5)

Last week: defeated Illinois State 69-57

SMS finally found some offense, and it resulted in a win over Illinois State. It was a much better outcome than the first meeting between the two teams last month, when the Bears managed only 42 points in a loss. The 69 points by SMS was its highest point total since January 15.

Now it’s time to head to Northern Iowa on Wednesday. SMS took the previous meeting in January, 62-60, but UNI is a better offensive team at home. The winner will either take sole possession of fourth place in the standings or move into a tie for third place if Wichita State falls at Indiana State. Southern Illinois will visit on Saturday in what will be a very tough home game for the Bears.

Wichita State (15-7 / 8-4)

Last week: defeated Illinois State 70-50, defeated Bradley 78-57

The Shockers are finally going on the right track and at the best possible time. Wichita State went into Illinois State and handed the Redbirds their worst home defeat of the season last Wednesday, and they didn’t let down on Sunday while tearing apart Bradley. Paul Miller and Aaron Hogg each recorded double-doubles in the win over Bradley. The Shockers also dished out 23 assists and hit 54 percent from the field.

This week’s slate appears favorable with the momentum WSU is riding. They will head to Indiana State on Wednesday and host Evansville on Saturday.

     

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