As it clawed its way to a 59-50 win over spunky Loyola on Friday, Missouri State coach Kellie Harper saw a little of everything from her team in the Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball quarterfinals.
"I kept telling the players, you only have to win by one. When the buzzer sounds, the only thing that matters is being ahead by one," Harper said following her team’s win at the TaxSlayer Center. "Good, bad or ugly, it doesn’t matter."
In a game filled with runs, the Lady Bears delivered a little of each to reach today’s 4:30 p.m. semifinal.
Missouri State’s difference making run came during the opening minutes of the second half, a 16-0 blitz that erased a four-point halftime deficit and positioned the second-seeded Lady Bears to withstand one final push by the Ramblers.
That came in the form of a 12-0 run that allowed Loyola to tie the game at 43-43 on a 3-pointer by Abby O’Connor with 1 minutes, 7 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
"We were prepared to deal with anything they threw at us. They went on a run, we were ready to answer," said O’Connor, who finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
A jumper by Mya Bhinhar and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Danielle Gitzen — the only one Missouri State hit in seven attempts during the game — allowed the Lady Bears regain a 48-43 lead heading into the final quarter.
It also fueled a run of 13 unanswered points that the Ramblers couldn’t match, hitting just 3-of-16 shots in the final quarter.
"Our kids fought like hell, though," Loyola coach Kate Achter said. "We made them earn every basket they had in the second half. I’m proud of the effort, mostly proud of our fight."
Despite rolling to wins over the Ramblers by 35- and 27-point margins during the regular season, it was the type of fight the Lady Bears expected.
"We knew they would come in here and fight the entire game," said Missouri State senior Danielle Gitzen, who scored a game-high 18 points. "Nobody wants their season to end. We knew they would give us everything they had."
Loyola delivered that message quickly.
The Lady Bears (21-9) scored the game’s first eight points, but the Ramblers answered with 11 unanswered tone-setting points of their own.
Led by 13 points from Maya Dunson, Loyola connected on five of its eight 3-point baskets in the opening two quarters, building a 31-17 halftime lead.
"We had to come out and get steals, get stops, do the things we do," Missouri State sophomore Brice Calip said. "We needed to play defense and let that turn into our offense."
The Lady Bears accomplished that as the Ramblers (13-18) missed their first seven shots and turned the ball over three times before Dunson ended Missouri State’s 16-0 run, cutting into a 43-31 deficit with a lay-in with 5:38 remaining in the third quarter.
"We got out of here with a win and a chance to play another game," Harper said. "This time of year, that’s all that matters."