A basketball player shoots the ball
Kennedy Taylor had 18 points and 14 rebounds for Missouri State on Thursday night in a 67-63 loss to Illinois State. (Photo: Jesse Scheve, Missouri State University)

OPINION |

When the season began, first-year Missouri State Lady Bears head coach Beth Cunningham knew it was going to be a process as a roster with so many newcomers learned a new system.

Missouri State has made big strides after a 2-4 start during the non-conference portion of the schedule. The Lady Bears took a five-game winning streak into Thursday night’s home-court match against Illinois State, a veteran team coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.

The streak should have hit six. Missouri State led the first 35 minutes and 39 seconds only to let a big one off the hook after a flurry of missed shots, missed free throws and some key defensive breakdowns.

Cunningham ‘knew this was going to be a challenge’

But don’t suggest to Cunningham that the 67-63 loss to the Redbirds and former Drury University star Paige Robinson was a step back.

“I wouldn’t say this is a step back,” Cunningham said. “Illinois State is a really good team. I felt that way coming in. They have some really good pieces and I knew this was going to be a challenge for us tonight. 

“But like I told our kids, we’re capable of winning every game in this conference.”

There were many things to be encouraged about as Missouri State fell to 7-5 overall and 2-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference. But all of those things combined won’t immediately overcome the disappointment caused by a bad fourth quarter.

Missouri State missed 15 of 16 field-goal attempts during one stretch and a five-point lead melted away as the Lady Bears went five minutes without scoring. Poor free-throw shooting didn’t help, as Missouri State finished an uncharacteristic 4 of 14 at the line.

ISU’s Robinson shines in return to Springfield

Robinson, a graduate transfer who spent four seasons playing her home games about a mile north of Great Southern Bank Arena, scored seven of her game-high 22 points in the final 5:44.

Robinson, a two-time Division II National Player of the Year at Drury, also had five rebounds and five assists. She made 9 of 15 shots from the field in a highly efficient return to Springfield.

“Robinson is really good,” Cunningham said. “They get the ball in her hands at the end of games. She’s not going to miss free throws.”

Missouri State had some stellar performances of its own. Sophomore Kennedy Taylor, a Colorado transfer, continues to blossom into an emerging star with 18 points and 14 rebounds for her third double-double of the season.

Indya Green, a sophomore from Springfield’s Kickapoo High, had 12 points and 13 rebounds. Senior Aniya Thomas, a Kansas transfer, had 11 points as did the program’s lone returning starter, Sydney Wilson.

A female basketball coach shouts instructions to her team.
Coach Beth Cunningham said her Missouri State Lady Bears are disappointed, but will learn from Thursday night’s home-court loss to Illinois State. (Photo: Jesse Scheve, Missouri State University)

A disappointing end to the game

But afterward, there was disappointment in the air — especially as the Lady Bears seemed to have a grasp on the game for most of the night.

“Illinois State is a really, really good team and there were some things that we didn’t take a handle on,” Taylor said. “But we fought hard until the end. Nothing should be taken away from us.

“There were some possessions where we missed free throws, we missed bunnies, whatever you want to call it. It is what it is and we have to move on.”

Until the final few minutes, the stars seemed aligned for the Lady Bears. They hit buzzer-beating baskets in each of the first three quarters — Thomas a 3-pointer to cap the first, Paige Rocca another three to end the first half and Taylor with an offensive rebound basket to beat the third-quarter horn.

It seemed destined, if the game was close, Missouri State would have another last-second bucket waiting in a fantastic finish. But it wasn’t to be and the Lady Bears will have to learn from the tough loss and move on to what’s ahead, starting with a 2 p.m. home game Saturday against 3-11 Bradley.

“It’s disappointing because I feel like we commanded the game for the most part,” Cunningham said. “If you look at the stat sheet, we did some really good things.

“There was a stretch where we just deflated. I don’t know exactly what it was but you could just feel it in the gym. It seemed like there was a momentum shift and we just have to learn from it and get better.”

Lady Bears continue to rebound well

Missouri State’s greatest strength is its rebounding. With Taylor and Green leading the way, the Lady Bears had a 50-32 rebound advantage on Thursday. Included were 24 offensive rebounds. Some of the attempted put-backs were rushed, especially in the fourth quarter.

There’s a lot to like about the way this team plays. There’s no reason to believe the overall improvement won’t continue. Missouri State should be a Valley contender when it counts down the stretch.

“I think more than anything, this is something that will help us grow moving forward,” Cunningham said. “There were situations tonight that a lot of kids haven’t been in and will learn from. I always say there’s no substitute for experience.”

Added Taylor: “We’re going to take this and work on some things and figure out what we did wrong to use it to help us hopefully advance in the next game.”

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