SPRINGFIELD – Missouri State made 20-of-22 free throws in the second half and led wire-to-wire here Saturday afternoon in a 77-66 win over visiting Indiana State to help the Bears pull even at 8-8 in the Missouri Valley Conference race.
The Bears (18-10, 8-8 MVC) were led by Austin Ruder who scored a game-high 15 points behind three clutch 3-pointers, while Jarmar Gulley added 14 points to go with game-highs 9 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 assists. It was Gulley’s 14th straight double-figure scoring game.
Indiana State (21-7, 12-4) got 14 points, including 8 at the foul line, from senior Jake Odum, while Dawon Cummings contributed 12.
The Sycamores, who have already locked up a runner-up finish in the conference standings, were held to just 36 percent shooting in the game and made just 5 first-half field goals to fall behind by as many as 15 in the early going. Missouri State led by 11 at the intermission before ISU opened the second half on a 6-2 run to cut it to 39-32 before the first media break.
Keith Pickens, who contributed 10 points and 8 rebounds in his first start of the season for MSU, kept the home club together as his layup at the 16:14 mark ended the mini-run by the Sycamores to make it 41-32. Three minutes later, a pair of free throws by Christian Kirk pushed the Bears back on top by double digits, 47-36.
But over the next six minutes, the visitors would make a valiant run, outscoring the Bears 14-4 to make it a 51-50 contest with just over 7 minutes remaining. A 3-pointer from the corner by Khristian Smith capped the run on the heels of a Gulley pull-up jumper that accounted for MSU’s first field goal in nearly 7 minutes.
Ron Mvouika, who scored a dozen off the bench for Paul Lusk’s squad, came up big with a layup in traffic to build MSU’s lead back to 53-50 before Ruder dropped in a clutch trey in transition with just over 6 minutes left in the game. A runner by Manny Arop quickly got ISU within 56-52, but Ruder brought the dagger at the 4:46 mark, knocking down his final bonus ball of the afternoon to increase Missouri State’s advantage to seven.
From there, it was clutch free throw shooting that sealed the win and helped Lusk’s troops improve to 13-2 at home this season. The Bears went 16-for-18 at the line in the final 3 minutes, 19 seconds, and climbed ahead by double figures for the final time with just over a minute-and-a-half remaining on a pair of foul shots by Ruder. Six different Bears enjoyed a perfect night at the charity stripe as the team finished 28-for-32 (.875) for the game – their third-best game of the season from the line.
MSU finished 21-for-47 (.447) from the field overall after making half its first-half attempts, while converting 7-of-16 (.438) beyond the arc and out-rebounding the Sycamores, 28-27. MSU also snagged 8 steals, blocked 5 shots and committed just 11 turnovers.
ISU was 17-for-47 (.362) from the field, 5-for-25 (.208) from long range and 27-for-31 (.871) at the line with 15 turnovers. Arop led the Sycamores with 5 rebounds, while Odum finished 8-for-10 from the stripe with 3 assists in his final trip to JQH Arena.
In the first half, a 13-0 run in the span of less than 3 minutes catapulted the Bears to a 37-26 halftime lead. After Indiana State had climbed back within 16-14 with just under 10 minutes left in the half, the Bears got a jumper from Tyler McCullough, a flurry of 3-pointers from Mvouika and Gulley and a reverse layup by Pickens to make it 29-14 with 6:44 left in the opening period.
McCullough kept the lead at 15 with 2:36 left in the period on a pass from Devon Thomas, but ISU closed out the half with a 6-2 run to pull within four at the break, including four free throws. The Sycamores got 15 of their 26 first-half points at the foul line after shooting just 5-for-18 from the field.
The Bears will wrap up the regular-season home slate Tuesday at 7:05 p.m., when they take on MVC newcomer Loyola on Senior Night at JQH Arena. Tickets are available atMissouriStateBears.com/tickets or by calling the MSU Athletics Box Office at JQH Arena at (417) 836-7678 during regular office hours.