MSU (6-0) advances to play Virginia (6-1) in the tournament finals, Saturday at 8 p.m., in a game that will air live on CBS Sports Network.
Paul Lusk’s Bears stunned the biased Texas crowd after overcoming an 8-point deficit and a poor shooting effort in the first half to outscore the Aggies, 49-38, in the second stanza. Ruder dropped 16 of his game-high point total in the second half behind four treys, including a pair of rare four-point plays that proved critical in the outcome.
After the Bears battled through a 29-24 halftime deficit to tie the game on a hook shot by Emmanuel Addo just over three minutes into the second half, it was Ruder’s second four-point play at the 10:47 mark that gave MSU it’s first advantage since 2-0. His big shot put Missouri State ahead 46-42 at the time. Despite several rushes by the Aggies and three consecutive three-point plays by Texas A&M in the final three minutes, the Bears would never trail again.
A&M cut MSU’s lead to one or two points eight different times down the stretch, but each time the Bears answered. Ruder dropped in another trey with six-and-a-half to play, Addo and Christian Kirkscored on hook shots before the five-minute mark, and Gulley scored on a baseline drive with 3:34 to play. With just under three minutes to play, Gulley slapped a loose ball to Kirk who tomahawked in a one-handed dunk and was fouled. His subsequent free throw made it a 60-56 game at the time.
With just over two minutes remaining, Addo knocked down a monumental 3-pointer from the right wing to turn a one-point MSU advantage into 63-59 lead. But it was clutch free throw shooting that made the difference from there as Addo, Williams and Nathan Scheer combined to go 8-for-8 at the stripe in the final 96 seconds to seal the win. As a team, the Bears converted 21-of-23 (.913) foul shots on the night — a season-best for MSU.
MSU overcame a 23.3-percent first-half shooting performance by making 15-of-27 (.556) shots in the second period while committing just three turnovers in the final 20 minutes. MSU finished the night 22-of-57 (.386) from the field and 8-of-26 (.308) from beyond the arc. MSU was out-rebounded 35-34, but snagged 10 offensive boards which lead to 6 second-chance points.
Texas A&M (6-1) was led by Kourtney Roberson with 16 points, while Jordan Green tallied 13, and Antwan Space scored 10 with a game-high 7 rebounds.
MSU also got double-figure points from Addo with 11 and Gulley with 10. Kirk led all MSU players with 6 rebounds, while Gulley dished out 4 assists and snagged a game-high 5 steals.
The Bears played within two possessions of the lead most of the first half despite a poor shooting performance. Williams, Ruder and Ron Mvouika dropped in key 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes, including Mvouika’s trey with 2:33 remaining to start a 5-0 MSU run that eventually made it a 27-24 game with just 1:15 left in the opening stanza. The Aggies scored the final bucket of the half on a right-wing jumper by Jamal Jones.
Texas A&M’s biggest lead of the opening period came with a 6-0 run over a 90-second span late in the half that resulted in a 22-14 advantage at the 4:57 mark. But Ruder answered with his first trey of the night. A layup by Roberson pushed the Texas club’s lead back to eight with just under three minutes on the clock, but MSU’s subsequent 5-0 got the Bears back within striking distance before the intermission and gave the Bears a fighting chance when they opened the second half with a 7-2 run to tie the game.