ST. LOUIS - The Shockers (25-8) took down the Illinois State Redbirds in the semifinals at the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference tournament, 65-61, to send the Shockers to championship game for the first time in 20 years.
A steady dose of back-and-forth action highlighted by an offensive clinic by guards Toure' Murry and Demtric Williams, paved the way for an intense match-up.Despite the Shockers holding double-digit leads in the second half, the semifinal match was anything but easy.
The duo tallied 17 of the Shockers' first 19 points, highlighted by Williams' personal 7-0 run. Murry led all scorers with 17 points while holding All-MVC first-team guard Osiris Eldridge to eight points.
"Osiris is a great player," Murry said. "He's probably the best player I've ever played in my career. My goal was to contest his shots and be aggressive with him. I knew it would be hard for him to play with that intensity all game on both offense and defense."
Sophomore center Garrett Stutz continued his tear through the tournament with 12 points and five rebounds on Saturday. Williams also finished in double figures, with 12 points.
Dinma Odiakosa led the Redbird attack with 15 points and six rebounds.
After a first half that ended in the Shockers' favor, 30-24, Odiakosa opened the half with a put-back layup to cut into the halftime deficit, 30-26.
The Shockers responded with a spark of their own, using a pair of buckets from Stutz. The sophomore center followed that up with a crucial defensive stand, taking the first of two charges the Shockers would take in the second half.
Durley followed the defensive effort with a three-point play to open up the game, 39-30 just three minutes into the half.
Refusing to surrender, Illinois State rallied with a 10-2 run fueled by a Lloyd Phillips' three, closing the gap, 41-40, with 12 minutes to play.
Junior forward Gabe Blair responded to another Odiakosa layup by going up strong to hit a short jumper and draw the foul. He hit the free throw to convert the three-point play for the 46-42 lead. A Redbird three-point play in response set the tone for what would be a thrilling finish.
Although both teams quieted on the offensive front for a stretch, the Shocker defensive performance made the game all the more tense. When Durley stepped up and took the charge by Eldridge, freshman guard Demetric Williams broke the scoring drought in the next trip down the floor. His three ball pushed the lead to 55-48 at the final media timeout.
As if by reflex, Phillips knocked a three for Illinois State immediately following the break. With two-and-a-half minutes to play, the Redbirds missed a key opportunity when they missed both free throws.
The Shockers took advantage. Murry sunk a long two from the top of the key to extend the lead. In the meantime, a huge rebound and put-back layup for Stutz gave the Shockers the 60-51 lead with a minute-and-a-half remaining.
Illinois State was far from giving up, however, as an Alex Rubn drained a three to cut the Shocker lead to four with 27 seconds on the clock. The Redbirds forced a turnover, trapping Durley in the corner on an inbounds play, resulting in an Odiakosa dunk, shrinking the Shocker lead to two with 20 seconds remaining.
A homerun pass from Murry to junior guard Graham Hatch sealed the deal for the Shockers, 65-61, to send the Shocks to the championship game for the first time since the tournament's stay in St. Louis.
No. 2 seed Wichita State will take on the No. 1 seeded Northern Iowa Panthers on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast nationally on CBS.