The Missouri St. Bears were making a joke of Southern Illinois’ defense, which was ranked third in the nation coming into Thursday’s game. The Bears took a 25-7 lead in the first half and were on their way to a blow out. But the Salukis, who were giving up just 55.2 points per game before Thursday, clamped down and made it close.

The Bears’ 15-point lead at the half was cut to just one when SIU cut it to 50-49. MSU’s ability to hold on to the slim lead can be largely attributed to their dead-aim from the free throw line. They hit all 16 of their free throws and were 11-of-11 in the second half.

Blake Ahearn led the way for the Bears with 18 points and teammate Deke Thompson added 14. The Bears out-rebounded the Salukis 32-25.

With the win, MSU moved right back into the thick of things in the Missouri Valley Conference Standings. At 12-4 overall and 5-3 in the MVC, the Bears are a game behind SIU, Creighton, Wichita St. and Northern Iowa, who are all tied for first.