Missouri State (5-0) got 13 points from Jarmar Gulley and 10 from Christian Kirk to help overcome an off shooting night by the Bears in a 54-52 win over visiting Liberty here Tuesday in the second round of the Corpus Christi Challenge.
Liberty (1-5) got a game-high 17 points from Davon Marshall who knocked down four of the Flames’ six 3-pointers on the night, while Antwan Burrus added 10 points off the bench.
To stay unbeaten, the Bears had to rally from behind for the fourth time this season. A layup by John Caleb Sanders with 8:33 left in the first half put the visitors ahead 18-8 as part of a 6-0 run by the Flames. LU kept a single-digit lead until five minutes into the second half when Dorrian Williams scored on a layup in transition as part of an 8-2 outburst by Missouri State to start the second half.
The lead changed hands six more times over the next seven-and-a-half minutes before a pair of free throws by Williams and two more by Nathan Scheer gave the home club some breathing room at 47-44 with 5:46 to go. Thirty-four seconds later, Marshall knocked down his final trey of the night with the shot clock winding down to tie the game for the fourth and final time.
Scheer, one of MSU’s four seniors, then put MSU ahead to stay with a pair of free throws with 4:48 remaining. On Liberty’s next possession, the Flames collected three offensive rebounds, but couldn’t convert before MSU gathered in the final miss and Kirk knocked down a 12-foot jumper on the other end to push MSU ahead 51-47.
Liberty rallied again with a mini 3-0 run over the next two-and-a-half minutes, but Gulley drained a 3-pointer with 83 seconds to go to push Paul Lusk’s squad back on top by four, 54-50.
In the final minute, Liberty, an NCAA Tournament team from a year ago, had several opportunities with Sanders trimming the deficit to two with 59 seconds left, and Tomasz Gielo collecting a Scheer miss with 33 seconds showing. Out of their final timeout, Liberty got the ball to Marshall with 10 seconds to go, but Gulley came out of nowhere to block the shot which Scheer gathered in and fed to Williams.
The MSU sophomore was fouled, but missed both ensuing free throws with 9.6 seconds to spare, giving Liberty one last chance. With the ball loose on the floor on the ensuing possession, the Flames’ J.R. Coronado launched a desperation 3-pointer just before the horn, but Gulley fouled him and sent him to the line for three shots with an adjusted 2.2 seconds left. Coronado missed all three shots, but an inadvertent whistle on the final miss resulted in a “jump ball” call to give Liberty the ball on the alternating possession and yet another chance. Liberty set up one last play — a 3-point try by Marshall that missed — and Kirk gathered in the missed shot to seal the win.
“Anytime you shoot 34 percent from the field, 23 percent from three and 58 percent from the line and come away with a win, you’re not giving that one back,” said Lusk. “It reminded me a lot of a grind-it-out, Valley type of game.”
The Bears made just 19-of-56 (.339) field goals on the night, but were a respectable 10-for-24 in the second half. MSU was 5-for-22 (.227) from long range and 11-for-19 (.579) at the line while being out-rebounded by a 36-35 margin.
On the upside, the Bears blocked six shots, including three by Kirk, and committed just eight turnovers.Williams tallied a game-high 6 assists, while Gulley led all players with 8 boards, and Kirk collected 7 caroms for the Bears who improved to 5-0 for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
Liberty was an efficient 21-for-49 (.429) from the field, 6-of-16 (.375) from beyond the arc and a dismal 4-for-15 (.267) at the line — a JQH Arena record for lowest free throw percentage.