ST. LOUIS — People only remember what happens in March.
I’m paraphrasing, but that was Dana Ford’s analysis a month ago as his Missouri State basketball team charted course for 20-plus wins, contention for a Missouri Valley Conference championship and a plum seeding at Arch Madness.
Ford’s Bears did a lot of terrific things this season and were an entertaining bunch to watch, led by the talented inside-outside combo of Gaige Prim and Isiaih Mosley. But all those good things — fairly or not — are tainted in the eyes of many after another bitter dose of March Sadness.
Missouri State’s 79-78 overtime loss to Drake on Saturday in the Valley Tournament semifinals at Enterprise Center left the Bears 23-10, their best record since winning the 2011 regular-season title. There’s a chance — probably less than 50/50 — that the Bears will receive a National Invitation Tournament bid.
That would be a nice consolation, but these days in Division I college basketball, teams are graded harshly, almost a pass/fail format. Reach the NCAA Tournament and you’ve A-plus. Come up short and the world has ended.
Bottom line, everything revolves around March. The storyline of Missouri State’s 23-year-and-growing absence from the Big Dance is old and has been for years. Everyone associated with watching the program is weary of it, yet it’s going to be there until it isn’t.
Directing frustration at Ford and this year’s team is unfortunate. They weren’t around here in 1999, let alone 2006 and 2011 when the Bears of Barry Hinson and Cuonzo Martin did enough to merit an NCAA berth but a finicky selection committee disagreed. They weren’t here from 2012-18 when Paul Lusk’s teams were brutally subpar.
Asked how he will view this year’s team — and how he thinks fans should review it — Ford began by holding out hope he gets to coach the group some more.
“Hopefully, our season is not over,” Ford said, flanked by the downcast Prim and Mosley at the post-game news conference. “But for me, how I would remember it — I love coaching these guys and that is ultimately why I do what I do. For me, it’s been a fantastic season. I’ve enjoyed coaching this team, whether that’s on the court or off the court.
“In regards to how others view it, I’m not sure. We had a good year. I don’t think it’s over, but who knows?”
He went on to express how much he loved his players, on and off the court, praising them for overcoming adversity. A lack of depth, with starting point guard DeMarcus Sharp available for only five games and key sub Keaton Hervey bailing before the stretch drive.
The loss to Drake wasn’t without controversy, making it all the more frustrating. The blocking foul called on Mosley with 1.1 seconds remaining as Tucker DeVries drove to the basket was unfortunate, at best. Video replay shows that Mosley was moving a bit as DeVries went airborne for an off-balance shot and contact was minimal.
For a foul to be called in a game-deciding situation is a debate that can rage for hours, depending on your view.
To his credit, DeVries went on to make both of the pressure-packed free throws. The Bears had a chance to pull off a miracle when Donovan Clay caught Prim’s length-of-the-court pass, but his 3-point attempt from the corner grazed the rim.
That final sequence aside, the Bears lost the game near the end of regulation. Mosley’s two free throws with 2:09 remaining gave them a 66-61 lead and you could almost feel victory was inches, if not one defensive stop, away.
But Gone in 60 Seconds is not just a movie. The next minute was a horror show for Missouri State:
- Drake’s Roman Penn converted a three-point play.
- Clay picked up an offensive foul bringing the ball up the floor.
- Drake missed near the end of the shot clock, but Garrett Sturtz battled to secure an offensive rebound. Penn was fouled and made two free throws.
At 1:09, the game was all even. Then drama ensued until an overtime finish, which never would have happened had the Bears boxed out and taken care of the ball.
Now we’ll wait a week to see if the NIT comes calling. Northern Iowa already is in, as the Valley regular-season champ. If a second league team gets in, it will be between Missouri State and Drake. The Bears won two of three between the teams this season, but lost the one in March and that is the one everyone will remember.
Lady Bears in similar situation
Saturday was a terrible day for Missouri State basketball teams as the Lady Bears lost their regular-season finale 60-42 at Loyola. The defeat cost Missouri State a share of the Valley title after Southern Illinois suffered an upset loss at Valparaiso.
Already a bubble team to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large, the Lady Bears almost certainly need to win the Valley Tournament next weekend in Moline, Illinois in order to get in the tourney. They open as the No. 2 seed on Friday night, against either Drake or Bradley.
Lady Bears coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton posted on Twitter afterward: “Terrible game for us today. Very disappointed and sick about this one. My apologies to our fans and supporters for how we played today. No excuses. We will be better! We will be ready for Hoops in the Heartland next week!”
Drury women, Evangel men into postseason
The outlook is brighter for the Drury Lady Panthers, who took care of business at the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament on Sunday by beating Lewis 76-47 for the championship. The nationally eighth-ranked Lady Panthers (30-4) are on to NCAA D-II Midwest Regional this week in Ashland, Ohio, where they are the No. 3 seed. Drury will face No. 6 seed Missouri-St. Louis on Friday with the game time to be announced on Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Evangel men’s basketball team is off to NAIA National Tournament play for the first time since 2015. The Valor (22-9) of first-year head coach Bert Caple travel to New Orleans where they are a No. 8 seed and will face No. 9 seed Florida College at 3 p.m. Friday. Regional host Loyola (Louisiana) is the top seed and will play host to No. 16 Benedectine-Mesa. The winners meet on Saturday for a spot in the 16-team NAIA bracket in Kansas City, starting March 16.