ST. LOUIS — Missouri State's men's basketball team came a late 3-pointer from winning both of its earlier games against SIU this season. Sean Lloyd made sure the Bears didn't get another last-second opportunity in Friday's Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinal.
Moments after Aaron Cook missed a fadeaway jumper that would have put the Salukis up four with 19 seconds left, Lloyd poked the ball away from Bears guard Ryan Kreklow as he dribbled up court. SIU's Tyler Smithpeters grabbed the loose ball near the baseline, and started a fast break that ended with a Lloyd layup. The Salukis went on to beat Missouri State for the third time, 67-63, and advance to the conference semifinals for the third time in the last five years.
SIU will play third-seeded Illinois State in today's 5 p.m. semifinal. The Redbirds defeated Indiana State 77-70 in the final quarterfinal game on Friday night.
"I seen the opportunity to get a steal, I'm good at defense, so I just gambled, and then it worked in our favor," said Lloyd, who had two of SIU's six steals at the Scottrade Center.
Things appeared to be going Missouri State's way before the four-point swing of Lloyd's steal and layup. SIU (20-12) led 63-49 with 6:18 to play after Lloyd's 3-pointer. The Salukis didn't score again until the final minute against the Bears' switching defense.
Missouri State (18-15) mixed in a 1-3-1 zone with its man-to-man defense in the second half. Jarrid Rhodes (21 points) and Jarred Dixon (16) nearly brought the Bears all the way back. Rhodes' two free throws with 6:03 to go started a 10-0 run that pulled Missouri State within four with 2:32 left.
Rhodes, a lanky 6-foot-6 senior forward, made three shots in a row during the run and finished 6 of 13 from the field in 38 minutes. Alize Johnson, the league's preseason player of the year, only scored six points in his final collegiate game, but pulled the Bears within four with two of them. Johnson scored at the other end after SIU center Kavion Pippen missed a layup.
Dixon, a 6-4 junior guard, hit a short jumper to cut SIU's lead to two. Cook, who had a career-high seven assists, then took things into his own hands. The 6-2 sophomore got past his man on the left side of the lane and laid it up for a four-point lead with 58 seconds to go.
"When they trimmed it to two points, A.C. made the big layup at the end," Smithpeters said. "I mean, really, I just think, like I said, we have the confidence in each other to make plays and just keep our composure."
SIU moved to 9-2 in games decided by five points or less and 15-1 when it holds its opponent to 69 points or less. The Salukis held Missouri State to 45.1 percent shooting (23 of 51) but only converted 46.7 percent (28 of 60) at its end.
The Bears closed the campaign in disappointing fashion, becoming the first preseason league favorite to fall in the play-in round of the conference tournament. Missouri State had only 10 turnovers, with the last one the most costly.
"Obviously, you've got to get the ball to the rim, and you've got a chance," Missouri State coach Paul Lusk said. "You've got a chance. Obviously, we coughed it up. That's the way it goes, but give Southern a lot of credit."