A basketball coach talks to his players during a timeout
Coach Dana Ford and the Missouri State Bears are just one game out of the Missouri Valley Conference lead as the race reaches the halfway point on Saturday when Southern Illinois visits Great Southern Bank Arena. (Photo: Missouri State Athletics)

OPINION |

It seems like Missouri State’s basketball team already has played about four seasons when you consider the rollercoaster ride that’s included a good start, perplexing losses, exhilarating victories, injuries and shuffled starting lineups.

Yet here we are, just ready to hit the halfway mark of the Missouri Valley Conference race when Southern Illinois visits Great Southern Bank Arena at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, for what qualifies as a genuinely XXL-sized game.

Southern Illinois shares the Valley lead with Belmont at 7-2, but Missouri State is part of a pack just one game behind. It might be a shocker to many who wrote off Dana Ford’s Bears a few weeks ago, but this group has as good a chance as anyone to win a regular-season championship. 

The resurgence of Bryan Trimble Jr.

Wednesday’s overtime victory at Drake, completing a regular-season sweep of the favored Bulldogs, stamps Missouri State as a legit team to watch. At the least, Ford has a scrappy group that doesn’t give in. Guard Bryan Trimble Jr. is a prime example.

It would have been easy for Trimble, a starter early in the season, to shrug his shoulders after playing only 10 minutes in a seven-game stretch from Dec. 16 through Jan. 7.  But in the last week, Trimble has reappeared to play a leading role. 

He scored 20 in Sunday’s home victory over then-first-place Indiana State and had 16 in the win at Drake. The senior transfer from Akron made a combined 9 of 19 3-pointers and all nine of his free throws in those games.

Ford said Trimble is making the most of his opportunity. Injuries to guards James Graham and Damien Mayo Jr. opened the door for playing time — especially after Trimble had some eye-opening practices. 

“Trimble has practiced well as of late. He’s put in extra work and he’s stayed ready,” Ford said. “We’re starting to be almost to the halfway point of league play. He’s a senior and he knows what it’s all about. His role is to make shots. He was ready when his opportunity presented itself.

“He’s worked on his conditioning throughout the season and he’s worked on his communication, his practice habits. He’s been here early and extra. He’s starting to dig in and put the time in to hopefully finish strong. He’s had to go through a little bit of a process. But it’s never too late to be who you’re supposed to be.”

Ford calls Trimble an ‘elite shooter’

Trimble, a classic rhythm shooter who’s better when shooting off the catch than the dribble, was honest about his hibernation period prior to the recent resurgence.

“Nothing big,” he said. “I wasn’t performing up to my capabilities. I’m here now.”

Teammate Donovan Clay, who’s taken a major step forward of late in his stated preseason goal of being one of the Valley’s premier players, was direct when asked about Trimble’s recent contributions.

“What he always should give,” Clay said. “Three-point shot making, free throws. He plays hard. He’s an older guy. He talked out there. That’s the biggest thing, he was talking out there.”

Ford said Trimble is an “elite shooter” when he puts himself in the right position, which is to take shots after the Bears have worked the ball inside-out. 

“He’s a good shooter because he has great feet,” Ford said. “He’s always ready to shoot. He’s a strong guy and can shoot ’em from deep. He can really stretch the defense. As long as we can get the ball inside and get it out, he’s a threat to make multiple shots.”

A basketball player in a white uniform gets ready to shoot a free throw
Bryan Trimble Jr. has back-to-back games of 20 and 16 points in Missouri State victories over Indiana State and Drake. (Photo: Missouri State Athletics)

‘You gotta be a dog’

Trimble made a pair of 3-pointers as the Bears outscored Drake 13-7 in the first four minutes of the second half, making a 13-point halftime deficit manageable. That’s two games in a row the Bears have started quickly after halftime after being dominated in that stretch 20-8 in back-to-back losses at Belmont and Indiana State.

“We’ve won or lost a ton of games there (start of the second half) this year,” Ford said. 

Missouri State will need to make the most of that time slot — and its offensive opportunities in general — against a Southern Illinois team that is allowing just 59 points per game in league play. Like most Valley games, it’s probably going to come down to a few key plays in the final minutes.

“It’s about being gritty at the end of a game,” Clay said. “You gotta be a dog. You’re either gonna win it or lose it.”

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, co-hosts The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9 FM, 99.9 FM and 1060 AM on Monday mornings with Ned Reynolds and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton