▪ Count me as one who is unsure as to why Missouri State is so average. If you polled beat writers around the MVC, they would say Illinois State and Wichita State possess the most talent. Missouri State is in the next tier and there’s a dropoff to the rest.
Due in part to string of close losses, MSU is performing as just one of the pack in the MVC. It is in fifth place with losses in three of its past four, low-lighted by a discouraging defeat at last-place Evansville on Saturday.
MSU is 2-3 in overtime games in the MVC. Its other three MVC losses are by eight points or less. It also lost at two-point game at DePaul and a three-point decision to Valpo at home, a game decided by a foul on a three-pointer in the final seconds.
“In some of the close games, in particular the overtime game against Southern, we didn’t defend the second half,” MSU coach Paul Lusk said. “Against Evansville, we just didn’t defend second half. You’ve got to get stops to win and we didn’t do that.”
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Evansville made 16 of 25 shots to score 44 points in the second half of that 74-66 win. It made 1 of 4 threes in the game and still scored 74 points, which hints at a lack of shot-blocking and interior defense. Evansville committed a mere five turnovers.
▪ This is our first look at MSU junior Alize Johnson, who is leading the pack for MVC Newcomer of the Year. Johnson is one of those players who grew late and kept some of his guard skills through his growth. Lusk said he came to MSU shooting a set shot from behind the arc and improved from that area and from the foul line.
Johnson is 31 of 76 from three-point range (40.8 percent) and 72 of 114 (63.2 percent) from the line.
“He’s a guy that has developed late, grew late,” Lusk said. “He’s a really coachable kid and he continues to get better.”
▪ The Bears are the Valley’s stingiest defense against the three-pointer, allowing teams to score 24.8 percent of their points behind the arc. But they give up more two-pointers than any other team, 53.4 percent.
According to hoop-math.com, teams make 71.3 percent of their shots attempted around the rim against MSU, the highest shooting percentage in the MVC and tied for 3rd nationally. No other MVC team allows more than 64 percent.
WSU holds teams to 49.5 percent and only three teams (Gonzaga, Cincinnati and Central Florida) are tougher to score against close to the basket.
at Wichita State
- When: 8 p.m. Thursday
- Where: Koch Arena
- Records: MSU 15-10, 6-6 MVC, WSU 21-4, 11-1
- Radio: 103.7-FM
- TV: CBS Sports Network
Missouri State at Wichita State
Missouri State (15-10, 6-6): Johnson, a junior-college transfer, leads the MVC in rebounding in all games and in conference play (12.2). He has 14 games with double figures in points and rebounds, No. 9 nationally. … MSU’s bench has outscored opponents in 22 games. Sophomore G Jarred Dixon averages 15 points over the past three games, almost twice his season average. … The Bears rank last in the MVC by forcing turnovers on 14.3 percent of possessions and last by creating steals on 6.4 percent of possessions in MVC games.
Wichita State (21-4, 11-1): McDuffie made 11 of 13 shots against the Bears last season and averaged 12 points. He made 8 of 9 shots and scored 16 points, also grabbing nine rebounds, at JQH Arena . … Morris average 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds over his past six games. He played 20 or more minutes in four of those games, after playing 20 or more in four of his previous 17 games. … The Shockers lead the series 39-30 after winning 12 in a row. The Bears last defeated the Shockers in 2011.
RPI rank as of Thursday: MSU 192, WSU 56.