Back in the game
Recovery stories are the rage in the Missouri Valley Conference this season. Three teams are depending on players who, earlier this month, teetered on the edge of dismissal from the roster.
Bradley, Wichita State’s next opponent, is getting a big boost from the return of center Will Egolf after he missed four games following his arrest of New Year’s Eve for possession of a non-prescription controlled substance.
Egolf, a 6-foot-9 senior, was averaging 9.0 points and 4.7 rebounds in his three games (before Wednesday) after returning from the suspension. He did not play in WSU’s first meeting with Bradley, which went 1-3 in games he missed.
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The Braves need his shooting (40.4 percent from three-point range in 15 games) and his defense. Entering Wednesday, Egolf had taken 12 charges, half of the team total.
“He’s invaluable to our basketball team,” Braves coach Geno Ford said. “We’re 100 times better with him than we are without him.”
Ford said he felt he punished Egolf adedquately.
“Once you get all the facts, you have to make a decision that is fair and is good for the program and also for the kid,” Ford said. “We just felt the time he served away was severe, and we decided to invite him back and move forward.”
Southern Illinois and Illinois State are enjoying similar success, so far, with their redemption stories. SIU guard Desmar Jackson, threatened with removal from the team over Christmas break, convinced coach Barry Hinson to keep him. Jackson averaged 19.0 points in six game before Wednesday’s game at Northern Iowa.
Illinois State coach Dan Muller suspended guard Tyler Brown for a game. He is back in the starting lineup and scored 22 points, making 6 of 14 three-pointers, in Sunday’s win over SIU.
• Almost everybody realizes it is a two-team race for the top spot. Creighton coach Greg McDermott can’t afford to think that way, or let his team believe. “Anyone that thinks this is a two-horse race is foolish,” he said. “Northern Iowa, Evansville, Bradley and Indiana State are all very capable of making a run in these last 11 games.” That seems unlikely to most. “This league is so competitive, but I think Creighton and Wichita are going to hang right there at the top,” Sycamores coach Greg Lansing said. “The rest of us are going to be fighting against each other to see who will be third through 10th.”
• The MVC is home to some of the nation’s most unlikely rebounders. SIU guard Jeff Early averages 7.8 a game (entering Wednesday), which tops the nation among players 6-foot-1 and under, according to SIU. Evansville guard Troy Taylor, who grabbed 19 in a game earlier this season, is second at 7.4.
• WSU is 57-6 at Koch Arena since 2009-10, the 13th-best home record in that span. It won its 18th straight at home on Saturday against Creighton, tied for seventh-best nationally through games of Sunday.
• Creighton’s Doug McDermott is the only player in at least the past 17 seasons to shoot better than 50 percent (58.2 entering Wednesday) on two-point shots and three-pointers (52.5) with a minimum of 50 three-point attempts.
One to watch
Northern Iowa at Indiana State, 12:05 p.m. Saturday — The Panthers need to pull teams down if they are going to get back in the race for third place. They start a crucial stretch, playing at Evansville and Wichita State home after the trip to Terre Haute.
In their own words
“Ryan is our league’s version of Rip Hamilton. Most of his points he scores without putting the ball on the deck. When he does, he’s really good at flailing and flopping around and getting foul calls. And it’s an automatic two points when he gets to the line,” — Bradley coach Geno Ford, in the Peoria Journal-Star, on Evansville senior Colt Ryan.