In a game of streaks and runs, the third-seeded Indiana State Sycamores (20-13) struck last and captured the 2011 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title in St. Louis with a 60-56 win over top-seeded Missouri State (25-8).
The Bears roared out to a 9-0 lead early in the game and led 31-28 at the half before the Sycamores got on track. ISU started the second stanza on an 8-0 run to lead 36-31 and never trailed again.
While the Sycamores were rallying, the Bears went cold from the field and did not score a field goal until a layup by Adam Leonard with 9:19 to go in the contest. That shot and stingy defense, however, kept the Bears close, and that shot made it a 46-41 game.
After a layup by Jake Kelly pushed ISU’s lead back to seven, tournament MVP Jermaine Mallett knocked down a three-pointer to keep it close. Jordan Printy answered with eight minutes to go on a leaner from the left baseline to make it a 50-44 contest. Indiana State would not make another field goal the rest of the way, but with a 23-14 foul discrepancy, the Bears could not close the gap down the stretch.
Still, Mallett who finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds, made it interesting. His third trey of the afternoon with 4:33 to go made it a 54-53 game. Later, After Jake Odum made three of four free throws, Leonard knocked down a three from the left corner to make it 57-56 with 25.8 seconds to go.
The Bears defended well on the in-bound play, forcing ISU into a timeout, and then a loose ball on the floor that was eventually tied up by Missouri State. However, the possession arrow pointed to Indiana State, and the Sycamores kept possession with 20.4 to go.
After Odum was fouled with 19.2 to go and made one free throw, the Bears had a chance to tie with the final possession in a 58-56 game. MSU called timeout with 6.5 seconds left after not finding a seam in the ISU defense. The final play of the night found Mallett alone on the left baseline, but when he ripped to attack the basket for the potential game-tying shot, the ball slipped from his hands and out of bounds with 2.4 ticks to go.
Jake Kelly iced to free throws from there to give Indiana State a 60-56 win.
Aaron Carter led the Sycamores with 15 points, while Odum added 12. ISU shot 17-for-34 (.500) from the field and 5-of-12 (.417) from beyond the arc. ISU also shot 15 more free throws than the Bears, making 21-of-32 (.656).
Missouri State dominated the boards, 39-30, including 20 offensive boards that led to 21 second-chance points. The Bears finished 18-for-59 (.305) from the field, including just 6-of-31 (.194) in the second half. MSU was 8-for-27 from three-point range and took advantage of 12-of-17 (.706) free throw opportunities.
Mallett was joined by Weems and Leonard in double figures with 11 points apiece. The trio were all named to the all-tournament team along with Adum and Carter from Indiana State.
The Bears, who entered Championship Sunday, at No. 37 in the official NCAA RPI rankings after a remarkable regular-season run, will now play the waiting game in hopes of their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1999 when the field of 68 is announced next Sunday afternoon.