Bear down: Sycamores set to begin MVC tourney with Missouri State quarterfinal date

Mar. 7—With Missouri State's molly whooping of Murray State to open the 2024 Missouri Valley Conference tournament, the Indiana State men's basketball team is tasked with defeating the Bears again.

The top-seeded Sycamores (26-5) haven't gone into the tourney as a favorite since 2000.

In the 34th year of Arch Madness in St. Louis, the regular-season champion has won the event just 10 times.

Missouri State (17-15) put the Racers in a tailspin with a 3/4-court press Thursday that put them off kilter. Murray State (12-20) had 17 points with 17 minutes to go in a 60-35 loss — on the heels of sweeping the Bears in the regular season.

"Honestly, we took it personal this game," said Missouri State's Alston Mason, who had a game-high 22 points. "We lost by a lot of points the first game at home and the second game we kind of gave away, we felt like."

The Bears honed in on defense. An athletic Bears mix of guards and bigs had five players swat shots in the game.

"I think the players being able to execute is probably what makes it effective," Missouri State coach Dana Ford said. "I thought we had really good activity. We were solid. We didn't overextend ourselves with the exception of one time, in the second half. You play teams so many times that have a chance to evaluate and watch and come up with some things your team can do. I do believe it helped us today in shrinking the game a little bit."

Forward N.J. Benson said the goal for the game was to limit Murray State's field goals inside the arc — it had 10 2-point field goals. The Racers shot a staggering 21% from the floor.

"We knew coming in that we had to guard to be able to win this game," Benson said.

Bears guard Chance Moore dropped a dozen points as a reserve. He's averaging 10.9 points per game this season.

The offensive production of Donovan Clay, who is on his fifth and final Arch run, is another x-factor in this quarterfinal.

Clay is averaging 12.8 points, 2.4 assists and six boards per outing.

"I think it's going to be a fun matchup," said Mason, a third-team all-MVC selection

"Going against good players is always fun, competing at a high level and we know the type of team Indiana State is. I felt like we could have got the win the last time we played. It's another opportunity to show what we can do."

ISU exorcised lingering demons by picking up its second win in 14 years in Springfield, Mo., on Feb. 10, by a narrow margin of 73-71. ISU shot 43% from the field and at Missouri State — its fourth-worst shooting night of the year.

The Sycamores went 30% from deep while putting up a season-high 40 attempts.

ISU hammered the Bears 88-66 on Jan. 16 at Hulman Center.

The Bears have won two straight and split their past six games.

"Our group should definitely feel confident playing anyone," Ford said. "Our home game against them was a winnable game, but they are really good. They are so good offensively and I don't think they get enough credit for how good they are defensively. Julian Larry is a really good defender as well as Jayson Kent. Those guys do a great job. I'm excited about the opportunity to play them again."

The Sycamores have advanced to the semifinals of the MVC tourney eight times since 2000, including the past postseason.

"They have a super-talented team," ISU coach Josh Schertz told the Tribune-Star. "Their best shot is as good as any in the MVC. We will expect their best [Friday] and know we will have to play our best of the season to advance.

"That's what this time of [the] year is all about."