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Missouri Valley Semifinals Recap

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Missouri Valley Conference Semifinals Recap

Recap by Neal Heston

Northern Iowa vs. Southwest Missouri State? What seemed impossible to nearly everyone before the season tipped off is what will take place in Savvis Center on Monday. After a double-digit comeback against Wichita State, the UNI Panthers advanced to their first MVC championship game since 1994. They take on the Southwest Missouri State Bears, who upset top-seeded Southern Illinois on Sunday. A loss by SIU means that two teams from the MVC will qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Either the Panthers will be celebrating their first NCAA appearance since 1990, or the Bears will dance for the first time since 1999. The loser can begin making preparations for the NIT.

(5) Southwest Missouri State 80, (1) Southern Illinois 74
After rolling through the first 17 games on the MVC schedule, the Salukis dropped their second conference game in three tries. This setback opens the door for another MVC team to back in to the NCAA Tournament.

MVC Player of the Year Darren Brooks was one of four SIU players to reach double figures, and LaMar Owen came off the bench to put up a double-double for the Salukis, but it just wasn’t enough to get Southern Illinois back to the championship game.

For the third year in a row, the Salukis have come into Savvis Center as the top seed, only to leave empty handed. The previous two years saw Southern Illinois bow out to Creighton in the title game. An at large route will be necessary yet again to get into the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t know what to say,” SIU forward Sylvester Willis said. “We can’t seem to put together wins in St. Louis. I hope they don’t put the Tournament here.”

Sunday’s semifinal contest began just as everyone expected: very physical. Through the first half of play, nothing had been decided as the teams strolled into the locker room knotted at 29.

Offenses were clicking in the second 20 minutes of play as both teams scored nearly as many points in one half than they had in an entire game against each other in two other games this season. The “no-named” Bears were slightly hotter and slowly inched away in the second half.

Four SMS players found their ways to double-digit point performances, led by senior Merrill Andrews with 16. Tamarr Maclin, Anthony Shavies and freshman Blake Ahearn also put double figure scoring numbers in the books.

“I’m really proud of our basketball team,” SMS head coach Barry Hinson said.

Hinson inherited a team not recognized by many but still has the Bears in the championship game for the first time since 1992.

“We have no first teamers, no second teamers, no honorable mention guys,” he said. “But what we do have is a team. These guys believe in themselves.”

Team effort will try to earn the Bears a ticket to go dancing.

(2) UNI 63, (3) Wichita State 56
Wichita State head coach Mark Turgeon could only stare blankly into space. At one point in the game, WSU led by 14 points. As the game progressed, the Shockers crumbled.

“I think the best team won tonight,” Turgeon said. “We started well the first 30 minutes and lost our poise the last 10.”

Brooks McKowen came out and hit a trey to start the game for UNI, but Wichita State took control from there to take a 26-12 lead. Shooting struggles then began as UNI was able to cut the game in half going into the locker room.

Ben Jacobson put the game on his shoulders in the second half as UNI reversed its shooting mishaps from the first 20 minutes of action. It seemed like Jacobson couldn’t miss a shot on his way to a 23-point performance. The sophomore guard even nailed a jumper from behind the backboard.

“I’ve coached Ben Jacobson long enough to know that when he’s got it going, you let him go,” UNI head coach Greg McDermott said.

Wichita State held the lead in the ballgame until Jacobson connected on a trey to send the advantage toward the Panthers again, 42-41. UNI slowly pulled away thereafter, as Wichita State, with one of the strongest offenses in the league, couldn’t put anything together.

Northern Iowa moves on to the MVC championship for the first time since 1994. The Panthers, who have never won the tournament, face Southwest Missouri State. SMS has clawed its way to the title game with upsets over Creighton and Southern Illinois, the two squads that represented the previous two championship matches.

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