Behind a balanced offensive attack and a strong defensive effort, the Missouri State Bears built a commanding first-half lead and never looked back in an eventual 82-49 victory over Malone Wednesday evening at JQH Arena. The Bears were successful on a season-best 10-of-21 (.476) three-point attempts and buried the Pioneers with a 36-15 scoring run over a 15-minute stretch.
Christian Kirk’s 15-point, 8-rebound effort paced the Bears’ attack, while Marcus Marshall tallied 15 points on an efficient 5-of-7 shooting night to go along with four assists, and Anthony Downing knocked down 4-of-7 attempts from beyond the arc to finish with 15 points as well.
The lopsided victory for Missouri State (2-2) was powered by a solid Bears’ defense that held MU to just .340 (17-of-50) shooting from the floor, marking the third time in four games MSU has limited an opponent to 34 percent or less shooting this season. Additionally, the Bears forced 16 Pioneer turnovers, which they converted into 26 points. Conversely, MSU handed out 19 assists in the game while committing just six turnovers.
After a slow offensive start, the Bears heated up behind a balanced scoring front that featured nine different players in the scoring column in the first half en route to a 38-22 lead after 20 minutes. The Bears held the Pioneers without a field goal over the first 10 minutes of the game, while the MSU offense converted on 10-of-16 shots from the field over a nine-minute span to take control of the contest with a 20-4 scoring run.
Led by Kirk’s nine first-half points, the Bears also received significant contributions from Downing, who added eight points on 2-of-4 shooting from three-point range, and Drew Wilson, who chipped in with six points. The Bears finished 16-of-33 (.485) from the field, while holding the Pioneers to just 8-of-26 (.308) shooting in the period.
After misfiring on their first five field goal attempts of the night, the Bears got on the board courtesy of a Marcus Marshall 3-pointer at the 17:26 mark for a 3-1 MSU lead. That would kick off a hot streak for the Bears that would see them ultimately build a 20-5 advantage with just under eight minutes to play in the half. Kirk would come off the bench to tally three straight points for the Bears before a Wilson dunk and five unanswered points by Downing capped the scoring spurt.
Malone, which missed its first 11 attempts from the floor before getting a Zach Bates lay-in at the 9:44 mark, rallied to knock down six of its next nine shots to trim the Bears’ advantage to 27-18 with just over four minutes left on the clock. But Kirk and Downing teamed up to tally the next nine points to hand the Bears a 16-point cushion at the break–their largest of the night to that point.
After owning the interior in the first half to the tune of a 24-12 scoring advantage in the paint, the Bears turned their attention to the perimeter in the second, burying four triples–including two more by Downing–over the first nine minutes of the half to stretch the lead to 30 points. Keith Pickens’s jumper in the paint with 18:23 to play started a 24-9 run over a 10-minute stretch that would ultimately seal the win for the Bears. Marcus Marshall reeled of five straight MSU points to make it a 46-24 contest, before Downing canned with his third and fourth treys of the game. Bruce Marshall then drilled a three of his own at the 11:03 mark, and Kirk topped off the run with a pair of buckets from close range.
The Bears would coast from that point, expanding the bulge to as many as 36 points in the closing minutes.
MSU finished the night with big advantages in points in the paint (40-26), points off turnovers (26-5) and bench scoring (35-17). Pickens posted a game-high 10 rebounds for the Bears, who out-boarded the Pioneers, 42-36.
Cory Veldhuizen led Malone with 13 points and 7 rebounds, while David Goodwater finished with 10 points.
Up next, the Bears will begin the south-of-the-border portion of their Hoops For Hope slate Saturday (Nov. 24) evening when they take on South Carolina in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Game time for the semifinal match-up is set for 6 p.m., followed by a Sunday championship- round contest pitting the Bears against either SMU or UALR at 6 or 8:30 p.m.