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Gordo on college hoops: Missouri State climbs while Mizzou falls

January 28, 2019

First-year Missouri State coach Dana Ford has been preaching defense for some time now.

And his Bears finally came through with two strong home-court performances. Missouri State throttled Loyola Chicago 70-35 Wednesday night, then built on that by dispatching Bradley 55-37 Saturday in Springfield.

“Any time you hold back-to-back opponents under 40 points you’re doing something well,” Ford said during his news conference after the Bradley victory. “Whether that be what we’re doing in terms of keeping the ball longer, or being a little more active and obviously guarding the three-point line better.”

In particular, junior winger player Keandre Cook has made great strides defensively.

“He wanted to start, so we started starting him,” Ford said. “He wanted some iso plays run for him, so I started running some isos. Then I just said I want you to guard somebody. And he started guarding. These millennials, you just have to meet them in the middle. It is what it is.

“But to his credit, he’s definitely tried harder. He’s so long and active. ... He has guarded better. Here’s what I like about him now: When he messes up defensively and gets scored upon, he gets upset.”

While Missouri State finally moved upward last week, Missouri sank. Here is how the area’s Division I basketball programs stack up after another week of ups and downs:

1. SLU (14-6)

The depleted Billikens finally hit a rough patch in the Atlantic 10, losing 77-73 at Duquesne on Wednesday night and then falling to Davidson 54-53 at home. That downturn snapped their six-game winning streak, which included five straight victories in conference play. Senior wing player Javon Bess scored 24 points against Duquesne, but none of the Billikens got much going in their slow-paced struggle with Davidson on Saturday.

2. ILLINOIS (6-14)

The youthful Illini finally took a big step forward by upsetting No. 13 Maryland at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. The big story was freshman wing player Tevian Jones scoring 18 points off the bench to support outstanding freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu (20 points, six rebounds). Jones, who was suspended for a chunk of the season for violating team rules, matched his point total for his previous nine games. Illinois has won two of its last four Big Ten games and appears ready to make a little conference noise.

3. MISSOURI (10-8)

With a healthy Mark Smith knocking down three-point shots, the Tigers would have easily dispatched LSU and earned a huge victory over ranked LSU. They would have bounced back nicely from their 72-60 loss at Arkansas. But with Smith sidelined by a sprained ankle, walk-on Ronnie Suggs had to play 29 minutes off the bench on Saturday. The junior guard missed five of six shots from the floor, a struggle magnified by the offensive failure of senior forward Kevin Puryear (1 for 7 from the floor) and freshman forward Javon Pickett (1 for 7 from three-point range). All the Tigers had at the end was Jordan Geist (25 points, 11 rebounds) -- and he couldn’t protect a late 12-point lead while playing one against five. LSU’s 86-80 overtime victory pushed Mizzou deeper into the Southeastern Conference cellar.

4. MISSOURI STATE (10-11)

Junior forward Tulio Da Silva had been doing the heavy lifting all season for the Bears. But Cook, a JUCO transfer from Odessa College, starred in both Missouri Valley Conference victories last week for the Bears. He scored 21 points -- shooting 5 for 8 from three-point range -- and grabbed eight rebounds against Loyola. Then he produced 16 points and 10 rebounds against Bradley. Cook scored 62 points in his last four games in addition to stepping up his defense.

5. SIU CARBONDALE (10-11)

The struggling Salukis broke through on Wednesday night by handling Northern Iowa 70-62 at home. Freshman guard Darius Beane (16 points, five rebounds) provided a big lift off the bench and junior guard Aaron Cook (17 points, four assists), senior guard Sean Lloyd Jr. (16 points. six rebounds) and junior guard Eric McGill (13 points, five assists) all excelled. But then came SIU Carbondale’s hard fall against Loyola, 75-50 on Sunday afternoon for its fifth loss in its last six MVC games. Center Kavion Pippen was outscored 22-2 by beefy Loyola center Cameron Krutwig. Ouch.

6. SIU EDWARDSVILLE (6-14)

In a battle of Ohio Valley Conference also-rans, the Cougars edged SEMO 87-86 in triple overtime on Thursday night in Cape Girardeau. Senior guard David McFarland scored 21 points and freshman guard Cameron Williams (Hazelwood Central) saved the victory with a last-second blocked shot. But SIU Edwardsville then fell 85-69 at Tennessee Martin on Saturday, despite strong games from McFarland (19 points) and freshman forward Treavon Martin -- who set career highs with 11 points and eight rebounds.

7. SEMO (7-14)

Sophomore wing player Ledarrius Brewer did his thing as the Redhawks beat Eastern Illinois 64-59 on Saturday, scoring 24 points, dishing five assists and pulling four rebounds. He took over late, scoring seven of the Redhawks’ last 10 points to lead them to their second OVC victory this season. Brewer also scored 24 points in SEMO’s triple-overtime loss to SIU Edwardsville Thursday night. So he is back to full strength.

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