Authors Note: I'm writing this recap on Wednesday, February 1st. This morning we learned of the passing of Coach Charlie Spoonhour, who coached Missouri State (then Southwest Missouri State) from 1983-1992. Coach Spoon, as he was affectionately called, was a legend in Missouri State basketball. He helped usher Missouri State in to Division I basketball and the Missouri Valley Conference and led them to five NCAA tournament appearances. His great coaching turned the Hammons Student Center into "Spoon's Temple of Doom" and made Springfield a nightmare for opposing teams. Coach Spoon was a great coach and a great man and he will be missed greatly by everyone in Bear Nation, the Missouri Valley Conference family, and the Mid Majority family. Rest in peace, Coach Spoon.
This recap is dedicated to the memory of Coach Spoonhour.
Like all Bears fans, my personal anticipation level for this game between Missouri State and Northern Iowa was high. It should be after the way the first game ended between these two teams in Cedar Falls two weeks earlier. Northern Iowa won a hard-fought game by one point on a lay-in in the final seconds of the game after a questionable no-call by the officiating crew on what looked to be a traveling violation on the Panthers. Not only was the loss tough to swallow, it also seemed to put the Bears in a funk as they lost three of their next four games after being tied for first place in the Missouri Valley standings. There was no doubt that players, coaches, and fans wanted this win badly.
Although JQH Arena was not packed to the brim, the place was pretty full and it was buzzing. In particular, the student section showed up in force, continuing to assert themselves as the best student section in The Valley. With the national anthem and introductions out of the way, the game was ready to begin. Northern Iowa was the early aggressor and they shot out to a quick 9-3 lead on the shoulders of their junior leader Jake Koch. Despite the early run, the Bears did not look phased, especially senior star Kyle Weems. After closing the gap to 9-7, Kyle Weems buried a #superhoop to give the Bears the lead. Two possessions later, Weems added three points the old-fashioned way, triggering a 13-2 run for the Bears going into the under-eight timeout.
But, the Bears weren't done yet. On the Bears' first possession out of the timeout, in the flow of the offense, Kyle Weems decided to fire on a 25-foot three-pointer and buried it. The bucket sent the crowd into a frenzy and pushed the Bears' lead to 13 points. A few possessions later, Weems brought the crowd to their feet once again as he received a pass in the corner, drove hard down the baseline, and threw down a monstrous #omgdunx! When it was all said and done, Missouri State held a 34-24 lead going in to the half.
The halftime festivities were devoted to the recognition of seven new members to the Missouri State athletics half of fame: six athletes and one coach. All seven individuals had very impressive careers during their time at Missouri State.
With the halftime festivities wrapped up, the players took the floor and the second half got underway. The biggest concern for any team coming out of halftime with a double-digit lead is will there be a letdown to start the second half. The Bears quickly answered that question with a giant NO, as they started off the second half scoring with a powerful #OMGDUNX from senior big man Isaiah Rhine after some smooth ball movement from the Bears. After pushing the lead to 15 on an Anthony Downing three pointer, it looked like the Bears had the game under control. However, they suddenly went cold, going five minutes without scoring a point. The door was wide open for the Panthers to get themselves right back in the game, but they couldn't take advantage of the opportunity. Despite the scoring drought by the Bears, Northern Iowa was only able to close the gap to nine points before Anthony Downing finally got the Bears back on the board with a three-point bucket.
After that basket, Missouri State was able to find their grove and eventually push the lead to 16 at the five-minute mark on an impressive play by Anthony Downing. With the shot clock winding down, Northern Iowa managed to tip a Missouri State pass and send the ball in to the back court. Downing scrambled after the ball and managed to track it down 75 feet away from the basket with four seconds left on the shot clock. He dashed back in to the front court and drilled a 25 foot #superhoop as the shot clock buzzer sounded.
With a 16-point lead and five minutes to play, it finally looked like Missouri State was going to shake their problems with blowing games late. Northern Iowa managed to make the Bears sweat with a quick 8-2 run after the Downing three-pointer, but the Bears held firm and made their free throws down the stretch to secure a 63-51 victory.
Any win in our game feels good, but this one felt especially good given the circumstances. As a Bears fan, this convincing win helped wash out the bad taste of the tough earlier loss to the Panthers. Those of us who make our home in The Valley know that this conference is a battle. Every game is tough and every arena is tough to play in. Protecting your home court is critical, and on this day the Bears did just that.