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Missouri State's Anthony Downing (0) with the basketball, guarded by Drake's Chris Hines during Sunday afternoon's Missouri Valley Conference game at JQH Arena
The MSU Bears have picked up a much needed home victory, beating Drake 78-72 Sunday afternoon at JQH Arena and halting a four game losing streak.
It was the best shooting performance of the season for Missouri State, who hit 27-48 (56.3%) from the field. The Bears converted on six of 11 three point attemps.
The Bears had a 29-28 lead at halftime, but watched Drake grab a ten point lead in the second half before chipping away.
The Bulldogs, who trailed by as many as ten points midway through the first half, pulled within one of the Bears on Ben Simons' three pointer with 1:05 left in the first half.
Drake came out of the locker room scoring the first 11 points of the second half to go ahead 39-29 with 17:16 left in regulation.
Freshman guard Marcus Marshall got MSU's comeback started with a conventional three pointer eight seconds later, as he hit a shot, was fouled, and made a free throw.
Drake then answered with a three pointer to go back up by ten, 42-32, with 16:45 remaining before the Bears scored five of the next six points in the game to pull within six, 43-37 at the 15:28 mark.
Senior Anthony Downing's two free throws with 13:58 to play pulled MSU within four, 45-41, and moments later, Downing hit a shot to edge his team closer, 46-43.
Drake seemed to steal some momentum when freshman Micah Mason hit his fifth three pointer of the contest with 11:32 left in regulation to give the Bulldogs a 51-43 lead.
But Keith Pickens made some big shots, including a layup to pull his team within six, 51-45, and later a reverse layup as the Bears moved within five, 55-50, with 9:40 left.
Pickens, a junior from St. Louis' Oakville High, connected on two free throws with 7:57 to play to make it a one point deficit, 55-54, before giving the Bears a 56-55 lead on a breakaway slam dunk off a steal with 7:40 remaining.
After Drake briefly went ahead 57-56, Downing hit a shot with 6:52 remaining that put MSU ahead for good, 58-57. A half minute later, the senior drained a three pointer to make it 61-57 Bears.
The Bulldogs could get no closer than three the rest of the way, and junior Nathan Scheer hit a big three pointer with 59 seconds left to put an exclamation mark on a Bears win, making it 73-65 MSU at the time.
Downing had 26 points to lead Missouri State, followed by Pickens with 19 and freshman guard Marcus Marshall with 12 points. Downing's point total ties a career high, and Pickens sets a career high.
Drake was led by Simons with 19 points, with Mason putting in 17.
Pickens says despite falling behind by double digits, he and his teammates didn't let that deter them. "We just kept fighting as a team," Pickens said. "We took a few punches and we were able to stay back up and collectively come together as a team on the court and get stops when we needed them. Offensively, I think we executed down the stretch."
Pickens had a couple of breakaway slam dunks Sunday. "I was going a little too fast on one of them and I fell, but it felt good to get a few breakaways. I haven't done that in a long time."
Downing says it's nice to have one in the win column to show for the hard work this team is putting in. "When you're competing this hard and playing this hard and giving it your all, it just comes down to staying focused and not giving in. Keep gritting. Keep grinding. Keep trying to get the win."
Bears Head Coach Paul Lusk says it was a hard fought game by both teams. "I'm proud of our guys," Lusk said. "They blitzed us the second half. They were very difficult to guard. We haven't been in one like that. I've coached these guys for a year and a half, and we haven't been in one like that where we stayed with it, we got over the hump, got back into it and fought."
Lusk says it's nice to have a win to show for the improvement his guys are making. "It's a great booster for our guys. Everybody talks about it. We're getting better. We're improving. We started four freshmen today. But you've got to break through and get one of those W's because I can't keep telling them hang in there, hang in there. They need to feel good about themselves."
The win puts Missouri State at 6-15 on the season, 4-5 and tied for fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference. Drake drops to 9-11, 3-6.
The Bears will take on nationally ranked Creighton Wednesday night in Omaha. Tipoff is 7:05.
Sunday's game marked the first time in Bears basketball history that four freshmen have started a game (Drew Wilson, Gavin Thurman, Dorrian Williams, and Marcus Marshall). The lone senior in the starting five was Anthony Downing.
Christian Kirk missed Sunday's game with concussion-like symptoms. Lusk says it was a precaution, but he thinks the 6-7 sophomore should be ready to go this week.
Sunday's announced attendance at JQH Arena was 5,824. The Bears most recent home games, against nationally ranked Creighton and Wichita State, drew 7,895 and 6,448 respectively.
The Bears finally won when wearing gray uniforms. MSU was 0-3 with the gray jerseys last season at home.
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