I’ve ranted, I’ve redundantly elaborated, and I’ve ridiculously commented, time and time again on how the Bears must fix their penetrable defense. And they sure fixed it Tuesday night. The Bears defense only allowed the Drake Bulldogs to shoot less than 35% en route to a 60-51 home victory at JQH Arena.
Ladies and Gentleman of Springfield,
I give you: the Missouri State Bears’ Defense.
-Whistles, yelps, and thunderous applause-
(Wait, what? Yelps?)
The Bears used to play guards Jermaine Mallett and Adam Leonard 37 minutes a game.
-Tuesday night they played 32 and 33 minutes respectively.
Nathan Scheer would only come off the bench to foul and make freshman mistakes.
-He isn’t playing like a freshman anymore — he had 10 points, a blocked shot, an assist and a steal.
The starters had to score points because the bench would not.
-Center Caleb Patterson chipped in his own 10 points to give the Bears 20 points off the bench. And, oh yeah, he only played for nine minutes, too.
The Bears had to keep shooting the 3-pointer because they couldn’t score inside.
-The Bears outscored Drake in the paint, even though they constantly double-teamed center Will Creekmore.
Kyle Weems had to keep shooting the ball if the Bears wanted to stay competitive.
-Weems went scoreless in the first half. He is the best player in the Valley because of his ability to do the little things that go unnoticed in the stat sheet. He finished with 10 points. More on Weems later…
If Adam Leonard struggled from beyond the arc, the Bears will have trouble scoring points.
-Leonard went 1-7 from 3-point land. MSU still shot over 40% from the field and outscored the ‘dogs 36-27 in the second half.
Coach Cuonzo Martin’s man-to-man defense is flawed.
-Coach said it best after the game: “There’s no one in this league you can’t defend if you keep your man in front of you.”
The Bears have improved terrifically in all aspects — offense, defense, swagger — you name it. They have it. Yes, they came out flat in the first half, but corrections were made, halftime pep-rallies were given, Cuonzo’s secret stuff was dumped in the water cooler — and the Bears came out in the second half, (yet again), a different team. This isn’t an area of concern as of yet. Countless teams are labeled “second half teams” and play their best ball after the first half. I’m not sure these guys are the stereotypical “second half team”, but they certainly have played that way recently.
Kyle Weems is the best player in the Missouri Valley. Let me repeat myself: Kyle Weems is THE best player in the Valley. Last season he started out “en fuego” (that’s “on fire” for you English speakers.) and then disappeared toward the end of the season. Teams started guarding him better. He would catch a basketball cold, not shoot well, and lose confidence. This season he is the undisputed leader on this team. He is the face of MSU basketball, MSU athletics, and JQH Arena. And there couldn’t be a more well-rounded ball player to take the reigns of these Bears. (Profile upcoming in the next couple of days on Weems.)
Next, the Bears travel to Valparaiso, Ind. to take on the Crusaders for an ESPN Bracket Busters game. It’s a battle of two first place teams looking to distinguish themselves as the sexy mid-major team to beat. The Crusaders are 20th in the nation in shooting percentage, shooting 47%. They score 8 points higher than the Bears points-per-game average. As much as I’ve gushed over the Bears taking care of the little things, needless to say, they have their hands full. A non-conference opponent can be refreshing. It can also be a migraine. If the Bears don’t fall back to their bad habits and play as they Tuesday night in Springfield, they have Valpo’s number. If they can’t execute on offense, live and die by the 3-pointer, don’t get bench help, and retreat to their lackadaisical penetrable defense — it’s going to be ugly.