My game started with a frantic run across the entire JQH Arena (Springfield, MO) concourse, running through an 11,000 seat arena is a pretty good workout. I was returning unused student tickets and didn't want to chance being late to the pre-game ring and banner ceremony that would commemorate Missouri State's Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship in 2010-11. I reached my seat in the front row of the student section huffing and puffing and checked the game clock. 25 minutes until tip-off. About 15 minutes until we'd get to relive last year's thrilling victory over Wichita State on the last day of the regular season, and our school's first MVC title.
I looked up in the second level and try to find my parents. Back when the home schedule was released I convinced them that they had to drive down from Kansas City for this game. DIdn't they want to re-live the championship? Didn't they want to see Paul Lusk's first home game as head coach? They didn't have much choice when I showed up at home for fall break with their tickets in hand.
The ring ceremony began with a video message from former MSU coach Cuonzo Martin (now head coach at Tennessee). I wasn't sure how this would be received, MSU fans had always supported Cuonzo but many Bears fans felt betrayed when he defected to the SEC in April. Fortunately, everyone reacted with cheers and excitement. He addressed the fans and the university, telling us that he had great memories of last season. It was strange for us all to see him in Volunteer orange. However, the video was strategically cropped so as not to show the Vols logo on his polo.
Then the rings were presented. And the banner was unveiled, under a spotlight that looked like a halo. It was game time. The bleachers were packed with over 1,000 students, all on their feet. Looking up from my spot in the first row, I couldn't see the last few rows. To me, it looked like the bleachers extended into the rafters.
The Bears played two road games prior to playing Emporia State on Saturday night, easily beating Nevada and Arkansas State by 20+ point margins. We expected this game against a non D-I opponent would be a chance for us to pad our numbers and celebrate last year's championship with an easy win. For a while, though, that didn't look possible.
Throughout the first half Emporia State stayed with a sloppy Missouri State offense. It didn't help that the Bears' defense didn't look anything like the dominant force that held Arkansas State to 46 points earlier in the week. Considering all the upsets so far this season, we were getting a bit nervous as Emporia State led by as much as six points in the first half. However, at the end of the half MSU was able to re-claim the lead 33-28. MSU fans aren't used to trailing at home. The Bears are 35-3 in the past two seasons at home, losing only to conference opponents Wichita State and Northern Iowa.
The second-half Bears looked more like the team we'd seen in our two road games. The Bears held Emporia State to just 17 points in the second half and won by a final score of 71-45. Following tradition, the players extended the post-game handshake and energetically high-fived the first rows of students. With the first home game in the books it officially felt like Bears' basketball season!
at MISSOURI STATE 71, EMPORIA STATE 45 11/19/2011
MISSOURI STATE 3-0 (0-0) -- J. DuBois 4-14 2-2 12; K. Weems 4-15 2-2 11; M. Bizoukas 3-4 1-2 9; J. Gulley 4-7 2-5 11; A. Downing 3-6 0-0 8; C. Patterson 3-5 2-2 9; K. Pickens 1-1 4-6 6; N. Scheer 1-4 0-0 3; C. Copeland 2-4 0-0 5; I. Rhine 2-3 0-0 4; C. Kirk 1-3 3-4 5; C. Thomas 0-0 0-0 0; T. Aromona 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-52 14-21 71.
Three-point goals: - , MOST 9-23 (C. Patterson 1-2; K. Weems 1-6; M. Bizoukas 2-2; A. Downing 2-5; N. Scheer 1-4; C. Copeland 1-3; J. Gulley 1-1); Rebounds: , MOST 34 (K. Weems 8); Assists: , MOST 16 (M. Bizoukas 7); Total Fouls -- , MOST 15; Fouled Out: -; MOST-None.