A basketball player tries to dribble past his defender
Missouri State’s Donovan Clay has not closed the door on returning for another season at Missouri State. Clay had 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in Tuesday’s 84-69 victory over Murray State. (Photo: Jesse Scheve, Missouri State University)


In what’s been an up-and-down Missouri State basketball season, the Bears used their final home game to tease us with what might have been — and perhaps what still could be.

Shots were going in early and often — which always makes everything look better — and Missouri State led all 40 minutes in an 84-69 victory over Murray State on Tuesday night in front of 3,684 fans at Great Southern Bank Arena.

It was an impressive and entertaining treat for the home fans as the Bears exhibited selfless play and crisp ball movement, with 20 assists on 33 made field goals. They swished 13 of 28 3-pointers against a Murray State team that considered defense as optional.

“We’ve got to ride this wave of winning. Every streak starts with one game,” forward Donovan Clay said after one of his best career performances: 19 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three blocked shots.

The Senior Night that wasn’t

It was fitting that Clay’s stat-stuffing line came on Senior Night. No matter that Senior Nights aren’t what they used to be, in this age of COVID-19 extra eligibility and the transfer portal. Clay is listed as a senior, playing his third season at Missouri State after a year at Valparaiso. But there was no pre-game ceremony for Clay – or five others listed as seniors — and thus no hugs, high-fives or send-off cheers from the fans.

So this might have been Clay’s final home game in a Bears uniform. 

Or maybe not. 

“I don’t think so,” Clay said afterward.

Due to the COVID-19 season, Clay has an extra season of eligibility. Most figured he would move on for a shot at professional basketball after this season. Or he could hop in the portal along with thousands of others and transfer.

“I just try to stay where my feet are at, you know?” Clay said when pressed on his future. “That’s the biggest thing for me. I’ll worry about that when it comes.”

Coach Dana Ford said he’s merely worried about the next game and the fast-approaching Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Clay’s decision, plus those of other seniors with remaining eligibility, will be decided at the proper time.

“If someone has exhausted their eligibility, we will honor them,” Ford said. “We didn’t honor anybody tonight. Kendle Moore did his Senior Night at Colorado State (last year) and that’s where he should have, playing there four years.

“If we get guys who have played here for extended periods of time, when they exhaust their eligibility, we’ll honor it. That will take shape in the future, back to what it used to be. All this is a Covid by-product.”

A basketball player tries to dribble past his defender
With the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament one week away, guard Alston Mason said Missouri State is capable of making noise if it plays with the focus it exhibited in Tuesday’s victory over Murray State. (Photo: Jesse Scheve, Missouri State University)

A ‘really good year’ for Clay

As for Clay’s season, he had to embrace the role of the team’s best player and be looked upon as a leader on and off the court. He won’t accomplish his stated goal of being the Valley Player of the Year, but should achieve some sort of all-league honor.

“A really good year,” Ford said of Clay, who is averaging 11.8 points and 5.7 rebounds while serving as the Bears’ best defender. “He started off a little slow, but since the calendar flipped to 2023, he’s been really good. He’s had to play a different role on this year’s team, but he always gives you great effort and he wants to win. He’s had a really good year.”

Sophomore guard Mason continues to shine

So has one of the young Bears. Sophomore guard Alston Mason, who played little as a freshman at Oklahoma, has averaged 15.8 points and 5.1 assists over the last nine games. Mason has learned to play point guard on the fly this season after the early season injury to senior transfer Matthew Lee.

Turnovers had been an issue for Mason, but he’s committed only one over the last two games while playing 73 minutes. Mason had 18 points, six assists and five rebounds against Murray State. 

If Mason sticks around for two more years, his Senior Night could be a doozy. 

“He’s very coachable. He’s learning how to be a point guard,” Ford said. “He’s more of a combo guard. He watches a lot of film and spends a lot of time with our assistant coaches. He’s good. This year, playing that position, it has really, really helped his game.”

Mason said it’s been all about getting experience. 

“The more I get a chance to see the reads and go through the progressions, I’m learning,” Mason said. “I’m trying to make the guys on my team better and trying to break down defenses and figure out how we can score.

“Right now is a perfect time to really focus and dial in.”

A basketball player shoots the ball during a game
Alston Mason shoots for two of his 18 points in Tuesday night’s Missouri State victory over Murray State. Mason’s development at point guard has been notable over the last month. (Photo: Jesse Scheve, Missouri State University)

Bears the likely No. 6 seed in St. Louis

It’s difficult to project the Bears as making a four-day run in St. Louis because they have been unable to string together wins. They’ll likely enter Arch Madness as the No. 6 seed, meaning a probable opening-round pairing on March 2 with Illinois-Chicago before things get more difficult.

There will be few believers outside the locker room. Perhaps the Bears can channel that into something of a rallying cry. 

“Today, a lot of the guys came out with a different focus,” Mason said. “The approach to the game, for us, is really what is going to set us apart and to come out and play our best basketball. Today, I saw a lot of guys who were really focused and locked in.

“We need to try and ride that wave into the tournament so we can get where we want.”

Ford pointed out that the Bears have reason to dream. While the results have not been consistent, his team has never quit working hard. It’s now as healthy as it’s been since November, with 10 players seeing action for 10 or more minutes on Tuesday.

“They’ve proven they can beat anybody in this league,” Ford said. “We just have to do it on that day and we’ll continue to keep working at that.

“You’re only as good as your last game. There’s still a lot to play for.”

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 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