By: Sammy Stava
In the Thursday prime-time tilt between No. 7 Missouri State and No. 10 Valparaiso, something had to give. Missouri State senior and NBA prospect Alize Johnson’s college days are almost coming to a close, and the Valparaiso Crusaders were making their MVC Tournament debut.
It has been a disappointing season to say the least for Missouri State, as the Bears, playing in Thursday night’s play-in game, were the preseason favorites to win the Missouri Valley back in October. Valpo, replacing a team like Wichita State that left for the American Athletic Conference, has some big shoes to fill. It felt like both teams needed to make a statement in this game.
Both teams impressed, but it was Missouri State who made that statement. The Bears (18-13) defeated Valpo 83-79 to advance to MVC Quarterfinal Friday. In a must-win game to keep their season alive, Missouri State’s best player took over showed up at the right time. Big time players make big time plays, and that’s exactly what Alize Johnson did. “When you’re a senior, I think you’re just so determined to go out with a bang,” Johnson said. How about 22 points, six assists, and 19 rebounds? That will qualify.
Missouri State is moving on, and what’s up next for the Bears? They will face No. 2 Southern Illinois at 6:00 p.m. in the quarterfinals. Southern Illinois beat Missouri State twice this season, but those two games were decided by a total of three points. This one should make for a heck of a rubber match.
“This is the best mid-major post-season conference tournament in the country, I have no problem making that statement,” former Missouri State and current Southern Illinois head coach Barry Hinson said.
How about a regional rivalry between the Bears and Salukis in St. Louis? Arch Madness fans are in for a treat, buckle up.