ST. LOUIS — The Missouri State men’s basketball season is over.
The Bears lost 89-82 to Valparaiso in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at Enterprise Center on Saturday evening.
Missouri State looked like a different team from when they played on Friday. After the Bears defeated Indiana State by 27, ISU head coach Greg Lansing said MSU looked “like an SEC team.”
That was not the case on Saturday.
“They noticeably played harder than we did,” MSU head coach Dana Ford said after the game. “I mean, I thought it was really that simple. You can look at some of those 50-50 balls down there, they just got them, and we didn't get them. When they made their cuts on the offense, they cut harder than our feet moved on defense.”
The Bears didn’t play bad, but their performance to start the second half foreshadowed the end result — just like it has all season. Valparaiso led by two going into halftime. Senior Tulio Da Silva started off the scoring after senior Ross Owens picked up his third foul of the game in the first seconds of the second half.
Valparaiso continued to score, but MSU matched the shots as best they could until senior Keandre Cook was called for a foul and sent VU guard Javon Freeman-Liberty to the line. Freeman-Liberty extended Valparaiso’s lead to three, and the Bears went almost a minute and a half without a bucket.
The Crusaders slowly worked their way up to a 13-point lead while the Bears continued to try and take the ball to the net on their own. Ford said he wasn’t disappointed by that mindset, though, because the Bears had 15 assists on 30 possessions. The Bears attempted 62 shots in the game.
“We had 15 assists on 30 baskets; we shot over 50 percent and scored 82 points; we gave up 89 points — we just didn't guard,” Ford said. “Our feet stopped moving on defense is what happened.”
Cook, who struggled for most of Friday’s game from the field, led the team with 26 points in almost 36 minutes of play. Cook finished his career as a Bear with 493 points in two years.
“I was making some tough shots and stuff like that,” Cook said. “We were starting to come back, but we just couldn't get over the edge.”
Owens ended his career eight minutes and 21 seconds early, fouling out just before the under-eight media timeout. The senior, who started as a walk-on, ended as a starter for the Bears and someone Ford relied on to increase the team’s energy and work ethic.
“I'm sad it's over. It's been a long four years. I could never imagine what I got to experience this year,” Owens said through tears. “It's been awesome. I've just been enjoying the ride, and like I said, I'm sad it's over.”
Da Silva, Lamont West and Kabir Mohammed all ended their careers with minutes in the MVC semis. Da Silva had 11 points and eight boards, capping off his two-year MSU career with 194 points and 139 rebounds. Da Silva was a starter for the Bears from his arrival in Springfield. He earned Valley Newcomer of the Year during his junior season.
Ford said he will miss the seniors’ off-the-court personalities more than anything.
“They're great young men,” Ford said. “Just being around them, having the opportunity to teach them on the court, off the court, great kids, resilient kids. They've grown a lot.”
With the win, Valparaiso becomes the first “Thursday night team” to move on to the MVC Championship on Sunday. The Crusaders will face reigning champion Bradley at 1 p.m. at Enterprise Center.
The Bears will take this season to recover and reload their roster ahead of the 2020-2021 season.