Missouri State outrebounded visiting Evansville by a 45 to 29 margin and held off a late surge by the Purple Aces to claim a 76-66 Missouri Valley Conference victory here Wednesday night before 7,430 fans at JQH Arena. With the victory, the Bears improved to 15-6 overall and 11-1 at home this season. Will Creekmore notched a career-high 20 points and snagged eight rebounds to pace the win for Cuonzo Martin’s team, which evened its MVC record at 5-5.
After holding a narrow 32-29 edge at the intermission, the Bears got a quick basket by Jermaine Mallett to start the second half. The Bears then collected their next 10 points from their post players, including seven by Creekmore, as they extended their lead to 45-35 with 11:52 to go in the game.
Evansville (6-14, 0-10) stayed the course and kept itself in the game with quick ball movement on the perimeter. Lewis Jones helped pace a 7-2 run for coach Marty Simmons’ team, capped by a three-point play from Denver Holmes at the 9:53 mark, that made it a 49-44 game.
From there, Bears’ junior Nafis Ricks carried most of the load the next six minutes as he scored eight of his 12 points in that span. His free throw with 3:31 to go in the game stopped a 6-0 UE run and made it a 63-56 ball game.
Troy Taylor, who led the Aces with 12 points, produced six points in the clutch, taking advantage of four missed Bears’ free throws in the final three-and-a-half minutes to keep his team close. His put-back with 1:23 on the clock made it a 66-60 game before Creekmore put the exclamation mark on the game with his second dunk of the season and giving him his first career 20-point effort.
Martin’s squad made its last seven charity shots to seal a double-figure win. The Bears collected 22 offensive rebounds in the game, which helped MSU scatter 23 second-chance points and 34 total in the paint.
Mallett had 14 points and eight rebounds to help the winning cause, while Kyle Weems snagged 9 rebounds, but had his 21-game double-figure scoring streak snapped with just four points.
Missouri State shot 41-percent (25-of-61) from the field, but just 4-of-20 (.200) from three-point range. Despite a rough patch in the second half at the free throw line, the Bears finished at 71-percent with 22 makes in 31 attempts.
Evansville finished with a .411 (23-of-56) shooting clip and 3-of-12 (.250) from beyond the arc. The Aces were also 17-of-19 from the charity stripe for 89.5 percent. Turnovers were even at 14 apiece.
The Bears jumped into a fourth-place tie in the Valley with the victory and host lead-leading No. 25 Northern Iowa (18-2, 9-1) on Saturday at 2:05 p.m. Pending the outcome of Thursday’s Southern Illinois-Indiana State game, as many as five teams could be locked into the tie for fourth place in the MVC standings, behind UNI, Wichita State (7-3) and Creighton (6-4).
In the first half, Missouri State outrebounded Evansville by a 22 to 16 margin, including 13 offensive boards, helping the Bears score 14 second-chance points en route to a 32-29 halftime lead. The Bears, who never trailed, fought off several runs by Evansville.
After MSU led 17-11 at the 9:15 mark on a basketball by Creekmore, the Aces answered with a three-pointer by Denver Holmes to keep things close. Later in the half, Mallett knocked down his second trey of the half, helping the Bears to a 24-16 advantage with just over seven minutes left in the half. But, once again coach Simmons’ squad retaliated, closing out the next five minutes with a 13-6 run to pull within 30-29. Justin Fuehrmeyer scored with 31 seconds left in the opening period to extend Missouri State’s advantage to 32-29 at the intermission.
Story courtesy of Missouri State Athletics.