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MSU's Keith Pickens (1) holds the basketball, guarded by Indiana State's Khristian Smith (32) during the second half of Tuesday night's Missouri Valley Conference game at JQH Arena
The MSU Bears held on for one of their biggest wins of the season, beating Indiana State 67-65 Tuesday night at JQH Arena in Springfield.
The Bears, who held a slim 29-28 halftime lead, built their advantage to 14 points with just under nine minutes left in regulation, then withstood a furious Indiana State comeback that brought the Sycamores within a point of the lead in the final two minutes.
Lucas Eitel hit a three pointer with 2:43 left in regulation to cap an 18-5 run by the Sycamores, pulling within one of the Bears, 58-57.
Keith Pickens hit a shot with 2:15 remaining that put Missouri State back up by three, 60-57.
After Indiana State hit two free throws to pull within one again, Nathan Scher went to the free throw line, but missed both tosses.
The Bears held on the defensive end, though, as R.J. Mahurin missed a shot with 57 seconds to go.
Bears senior Anthony Downing, who's jumper late in the first half gave the Bears their only lead in the opening 20 minutes, came up big from the free throw line, sinking two with 54 seconds left to give MSU a 62-59 advantage.
After another missed jumper by Indiana State with 48 seconds to play, Scheer was fouled five seconds later and got another opportunity from the charity stripe. He hit both foul shots to give the Bears a 64-59 lead.
ISU got a quick bucket by Justin Gant with 31 seconds remaining to make it 64-61, but Downing hit one free throw and Marcus Marshall nailed two more in the final 16 seconds to preserve the win.
Marshall finished with 19 points to lead Missouri State, followed by Christian Kirk's 14 points and Pickens had 11.
Jake Odum finished with 21 points to lead the Sycamores.
"We were able to hold on," Bears Coach Paul Lusk said in his postgame press conference. "And we made some plays when we needed to. We missed a couple of good shots, even during that stretch when they had us on our heels. You know Indiana State is going to make a run."
Lusk says he's happy for his team, who has overcome a lot from the start of the season. "We talked about it. I said we made it through the hardest part. When we were 2-10, probably a lot of people left us for dead. I told them that. I reminded that again today right before the game. We've made it through the toughest part."
In particular, the coach says Kirk's play against the Sycamores was huge. "I thought he did some nice things," Lusk said. "He was active and made a couple of 15 footers, had a couple drives, and was good in the second half. I didn't get him in there right away the second half, but we had some decent rhythm going."
Kirk says he's not afraid to be more aggressive on the post. "Coach always says we need a better post presence to loosen the defense on the guards, so I just try and provide that and try to attack the rim."
And while the sophomore from Springfield Kickapoo only went 2-4 from the free throw line Tuesday night, he's showing signs of getting better from the charity stripe too. "Just get in the gym more and shoot more free throws," Kirk said. "At the beginning of the year, I was pretty poor from the line, but I know I'm a better free throw shooter than that. Just get in the gym and try to get the misses out of my head and just step up to the line and shoot them."
Marshall, who's had back to back games with a career high 19 points, says his team knew it had a chance in this one. "We just stayed positive and we kept our heads up. We had some productive practices over the week. We just came into this game and we knew we could win this game. We couldn't really match up with Wichita State very well as far as the bigs, but Indiana State is a team we could match up with well. We came out here looking to get the win and that's what we got."
The win improves the Bears record to 8-18 overall, 6-8 in the Missouri Valley Conference. Indiana State drops to 16-9, 9-5.
The Bears will play at Southern Illinois Saturday night. The Salukis, who are last in the Valley with a 2-11 mark, are coached by former MSU sideline boss Barry Hinson. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:05.
Missouri State, who hasn't had a losing season at home since 1970-71 at McDonald Arena, improves to 5-5 this season at JQH Arena with two home games remaining.
The Bears, who came into Tuesday night's contest ranked seventh in the nation with fewest turnovers per game (10.5), had only seven turnovers on the night.
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