MVC Tournament notebook: Missouri State survives

ST. LOUIS — Missouri State is talented, and that’s a major part of why the Bears are the No. 1 seed. Their attitude and confidence may be just as important.

Nobody in the MVC wins close games like the Bears, who survived against Southern Illinois 58-56 on a basket by Kyle Weems in the final two seconds on Friday.

“We found a way to win,” Weems said. “I thought we did a pretty good job the last three or four minutes of just adjusting.”

It’s helpful to adjust with Weems, the MVC’s Player of the Year and best all-around scorer. He’s surrounded with good help with four seniors. More than most teams, however, the Bears seems to execute in the final minutes. MSU is 7-2 in MVC games decided by five points or less after Friday’s win. They rarely turn the ball over. They can put five scorers on the floor, three of whom can make three-pointers.

“We’ve been in pretty much every tough basketball game scenario,” Weems said. “So we just kept telling ourselves, ‘Stay composed.’æ”

MSU faces Creighton today. The Bluejays led both previous meetings by 10 or more points in the second half. They lost both, 67-55 at home and 67-66 at JQH Arena.

“They’ve found a lot of ways to win games like that,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Their seniors step up and make plays.”

SIU controlled most of the game. The Bears didn’t lead until Weems’ basket banked in. In the final two minutes, MSU made play after play while the Salukis seized up with turnovers and missed free throws.

“We tensed up a little bit more,” SIU coach Chris Lowery said. “We have to make those plays to stretch the game and tighten them up. They took the game from us at the end.”

Enter the hall — Former Shocker football star Linwood Sexton was inducted into the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame on Friday morning.

Sexton, from East High, was a three-time All-MVC pick as a running back from 1945-47. He ran for 1,995 yards, a mark that stood as the school’s career mark for more than 40 years. He also lettered in basketball and track and field.

Sexton was an athletic pioneer as a black player during a difficult time. In St. Louis, and other stops, he could not stay in the same hotel as his teammates. Tulsa, Oklahoma A&M and West Texas State refused to play the Shockers with Sexton, so he sat out games.

Friday, he spoke of the progress that’s been made in race relations in the country.

Sexton, 84, is the ninth Shocker athlete, coach or administrator inducted. The class of 2011 also included Bradley basketball star Joe Allen, Creighton soccer great Johnny Torres, Tulsa receiver Steve Largent, former Northern Iowa volleyball coach Iradge Ahrabi-Fard and Indiana State gymnast Kurt Thomas.

Strong in St. Louis — It’s been a rough ride for Creighton senior Kenny Lawson.

He was named MVC preseason player of the year, which is a good start. By MVC play, however, he lost his starting job to transfer center Gregory Echenique.

Lawson can put the rocky regular season of his mind after Friday’s performance against Northern Iowa. He made 4 of 5 three-pointers and scored 18 points. Eleven of his points came in 12 second-half minutes.

McDermott knew Lawson didn’t want to be a sub.

“That never manifested itself on the practice floor,” McDermott said. “Kenny’s been unbelievable unselfish all season.”

Thursday edge — It’s not uncommon for the team coming out of the play-in round to grab an early lead in Friday’s quarterfinal.

MSU coach Cuonzo Martin said he thought that factor helped the Bears in the 2010 tournament. It worked against them on Friday when the Salukis jumped to an 11-3 lead.

“I felt like Southern Illinois had the advantage,” he said. “They played on the floor and in this environment.”

Do the dance — Three Northern Iowa students created the Interlude Dance. The easiest way to explain it is to send you to YouTube. It’s a big deal there.

It’s also a big deal at Panther basketball games, where the students perform it as a group. The dance, with actions such as fist pumps and waving arms and sparkles, is done to the song “Interlude” by Attack! Attack!

Panther basketball players love the dance. They aren’t participants.

“I have not done the dance,” guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe said. “I started it and I stopped. But it’s neat to have that.”

The dance energized the McLeod Center since it debuted at a women’s game in January.

“The atmosphere in the McLeod Center has changed 100 times for the better,” coach Ben Jacobson said.

Panther fans — students and gray-hairs both — performed the dance in the second half of Friday’s game. Creighton fans declined to bend to the spirit of the moment and tried to drown out the music with a “Let’s go Jays” chant. They followed that by mocking the Interlude Dance at the next timeout by pumping their arms to music supplied by the Creighton pep band.

Nice to meet you — Evansville senior Pieter van Tongeren rolled up to Roberts Stadium on Saturday before the final game in that building.

Van Tongeren likes to arrive two hours early. So does former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, also a former Aces player. Sloan, as well as many former coaches and players, came back to say farewell to the arena.

“I was walking away from my car and this big white truck pulls up next to me,” van Tongeren said. “The window comes down, and it was Jerry Sloan. He said, ‘Good luck tonight, Pete.’ I was blown away. I have never met him before, but even when he was at Utah, I guess, he follows us.”

Worth noting — Southern Illinois senior Jack Crowder didn’t play in Thursday’s win over Illinois State. He arrived in St. Louis on Thursday afternoon after attending funerals for his aunt and cousin, killed in a drive-by shooting, in Los Angeles earlier this week. Crowder, from Wichita Southeast, played eight minutes in Friday’s loss to Missouri State, scoring two points and blocking two shots.æ.æ.æ. Creighton advances to the semifinal for the 10th time in 13 seasons.æ.æ.æ. UNI saw its streak of six straight tournament wins end despite tying a season-low with four turnovers.æ.æ.æ. Missouri State returns to the semifinals for the first time since 2007. Top seeds are 68-21 in the tournament.