Photo: MSU Athletics

NORMAL, Ill. — Trailing by three points with 26 seconds left in the game, Missouri State’s Ryan Kreklow had Illinois State’s Milik Yarbrough trapped near mid-court and slapped the ball away toward the MSU basket.

For a second, it looked like the cardiac Bears, who defeated ISU on a half-court buzzer-beater just two weeks earlier, were at it again here Wednesday. But Kreklow was whistled for a foul on the play instead, and Yarbrough sank both ensuing free throws.

Missouri State turned it over on its next possession and ultimately fell, 65-57 with Yarbrough scoring ISU’s final six points at the free throw line.

The Redbirds (16-14, 9-8 MVC) got a game-high 28 points from Yarbrough, who was 11-for-11 at the line. Phil Fayne added 18 points for ISU.

MSU (16-14, 10-7 MVC) remains very much in the Valley title hunt with one game to go, and will enter the final game of the year Saturday against Drake (3 p.m. at JQH Arena) no more than a game out of first place. The results of Wednesday’s late games involving fellow frontrunners Loyola and Drake were pending.

Keandre Cook scored 16 points for Missouri State, with Jarred Dixon adding 15 and Tulio Da Silva scoring 12.

After ISU led by one at the half, Fayne scored the Redbirds’ first 11 points of the second half to push the home side ahead 36-31 at the 15:42 mark. Yarbrough later pushed the home side ahead by 10 with a pair of free throws with 13:05 remaining that made it a 43-33 contest.

The Bears rallied with a 7-0 outburst from there led by four points by Dixon and a triple by Cook that made it a 43-40 game with 11:19 remaining.

Coach Dana Ford’s club stayed within striking distance over the next eight minutes, and when Cook hit his fourth trey of the game with 63 seconds left, and Dixon banked one off the glass at the 45-second mark, the Bears had closed the gap to 59-56.

On the next play, MSU had Yarbrough trapped when the rally-stopping foul was called.

Missouri State finished the game 19-for-49 (.388) from the field, 4-of-17 (.235) from 3-point range and 15-of-19 (.789) at the line.

The Redbirds were 22-of-54 (.407) overall, 2-of-8 (.250) from downtown, and 19-of-21 (.905) at the stripe while out-rebounding MSU, 37-30.

At the beginning of the game, both teams struggled to find their mark with the Redbirds building a 7-2 advantage nearly 10 minutes into the opening period. Missouri State was 1-for-14 from the field out of the gates, but heated up with a 7-0 run to lead 9-7 after five points from Cook and a dunk by Da Silva.

ISU responded with seven straight points of its own to gain a 14-9 advantage at the six-minute mark and then built its biggest lead of the half, 18-11 after back-to-back buckets by Rey Idowu.

With the Bears needing points, they began attacking the rim instead of shooting contested jumpers and rallied for a 13-4 outburst over the next four minutes. Da Silva accounted for six points in that span with Cook tacking on a 3-pointer and Ryan Kreklow’s steal and layup pushing the visitors up, 24-22 with 27 seconds left.

But on its final possession of the first half, Illinois State got the ball to Yarbrough who knocked down a three from the top of the key to give the Redbirds a 25-24 advantage at the intermission.

Missouri State wraps up the regular season at home on Saturday against Drake at 3 p.m.. Tickets for the Drake game are available now at or by visiting the Old Missouri Bank Box Office at JQH Arena, (417) 836-7678, during regular box office hours.

Children 12 and under will be admitted free to the MSU-Drake game, while all remaining available tickets are half price. There are also $1 hot dogs and $1 Coca-Cola products on sale as part of the Bears’ Senior Day regular-season finale.

Courtesy of: Missouri State Athletics Communications