The Missouri State Lady Bears are regular season champions of the Missouri Valley Conference, clinching their first league title in eight years with an 85-70 win over the Valparaiso Crusaders Thursday night at JQH Arena.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, confetti rained down on JQH Arena and the Lady Bears players and coaching staff, one by one, cut down the net at the east end of the court.
The win gives 23rd ranked Missouri State (25-4, 15-2) the number one seed in next weekend’s Valley Tournament in Moline, Illinois.
MSU jumped out to a 16-6 lead in the opening quarter, with Sydney Manning, Alexa Willard and Elle Ruffridge connecting on three pointers.
But the Crusaders hit five treys of their own in the opening half, not only keeping the game close, but tying it on three occasions.
Ruffridge gave the Lady Bears momentum by draining a three pointer at the first half buzzer, giving her team a 40-37 lead.
Missouri State took control of the game in the third quarter, going on a 9-1 run to start the period and taking a 49-38 lead with 5:24 on the clock.
The Crusaders were within eight of the lead when Brice Calip hit the second buzzer beater of the night for the Lady Bears, a three pointer to close out the third quarter and extend the lead to 65-54.
Valparaiso would get no closer than ten points in the fourth quarter as the Lady Bears pulled away down the stretch.
Willard and Calip each had 17 points to lead six Missouri State players in double figures.
Ruffridge put in 15 points, with Jasmine Franklin adding 11 and Abby Hipp and Manning scoring ten each.
The Lady Bears shot 45 % from the field, and made 11 of 24 three pointers, while going 18-27 from the free throw line.
Missouri State out-rebounded Valparaiso 42-30.
Lady Bears Coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, wearing the net around her neck, talked to the media after the game, along with Willard and Ruffridge.
MSU will try to go undefeated at home with a 14-0 record when it takes on Loyola on Senior Day Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.
Agugua-Hamilton won her 25th game as Lady Bears coach Thursday night, breaking a Missouri Valley Conference record for most wins among first year coaches in the league. Creighton’s Jim Flanery went 24-9 in his first year at Creighton in 2002-03, while Stephanie Glance posted a 24-11 season in 2010-11 at Illinois State.
The regular season conference championship is the 13th for the Lady Bears, who ended their longest drought between titles (8 years), with Nyla Milleson’s team winning the Valley regular season in 2011-12 with a 24-9 overall record.
MSU is 49-7 since December 20th, 2018, ranking fifth nationally in total wins over that span.
Thursday’s victory tied the school’s regular season record with 25 wins.
The Lady Bears improve to 6-0 against Valparaiso.
Missouri State is ranked #21 in this week’s USA Today Coaches Poll and 23rd in the Associated Press poll.
Thursday’s announced attendance at JQH Arena was 2,861.