ST. LOUIS — No. 4 seed Missouri State advanced to the MVC semifinals Friday with an ugly win against No. 5 seed Illinois State. The two teams shot a combined 32.1% from the field, but big shots late in the game by the Bears’ Austin Ruder and Keith Pickens vaulted them to a 53-48 victory.
“Our guys didn’t cave in,” Missouri State head coach Paul Lusk said. “Even when they took the lead, we found a way to win the game. Our guys really battled.”
Illinois State (16-15, 9-9 MVC) could not get anything to drop in the early going. Missouri State (20-11, 9-9) opened up a 15-5 lead, but the Bears’ offense also stalled. The Redbirds pulled within 20-17 on freshman Tony Wills’ 3-point play late in the first half and went into halftime down five.
The Bears once again extended their lead to 10 points at 34-24. Illinois State sophomore Zach Lofton, whom Lusk described as a feast-or-famine scorer, caught fire with three straight 3-pointers.
Lofton drained another triple with 5:57 left to once again bring the Redbirds within one, and then freshman Paris Lee converted a 3-point play to give Illinois State its first lead.
The Bears retook control with a pair of trips to the foul line, but again Lofton answered from deep.
Ruder, a freshman playing in his first Arch Madness game, responded with his sixth 3-pointer of the game to put the Bears ahead for good at 48-46. Pickens added a tip-in with 42 seconds left, and the Bears then closed out the game at the foul line.
Ruder finished with a team-high 21 points.
“I kept putting them up, and my teammates kept telling me to put them up,” Ruder said. “It was a good feeling.”
Lofton was the only Redbird to finish in double figures, and he posted a game-high 25 points.
Missouri State will face No. 1 seed Wichita State in Saturday’s first semifinal. The Bears took the undefeated Shockers to overtime in their first meeting but were blown out in Wichita in the final game of the regular season.