Indiana St. caps upset run to MVC title, NCAA berth
Updated: Tuesday March 06, 2001 11:28 AM
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Indiana State found a way to top Larry Bird, the school's most famous player.
The Sycamores made it to the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history with a 69-63 victory against Bradley in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game Monday night. The title is Indiana State's first since 1979, when Larry Bird was a senior and led the Sycamores to an NCAA runner-up finish.
That was Indiana State's only NCAA trip in the Bird era.
"Maybe this is the one thing he couldn't get," forward Matt Renn said.
Indiana State (21-11) made it to the NCAAs as an at-large team last season after winning the conference regular-season title, ending a 21-year tournament drought. This time the Sycamores made it as the No. 5 seed, beating top-seeded Creighton in the semifinals and getting 21 points from Kelyn Block in its victory against No. 2 Bradley.
"This is not really an upset," Block said. "We knew we could do this. I got going, and couldn't be stopped."
Bradley (19-11) got a career-high 20 points from Eddie Cage. Jeffrey Rabey had 15 rebounds and Phillip Gilbert had nine points and 10 rebounds for the Braves.
"They obviously don't have a Larry Bird," Bradley head coach Jim Molinari said of Indiana State. "But they'll be a strong representative. They played great."
This is the 25th Valley tournament, and Indiana State is the lowest seed ever to win it. Creighton won as the No. 4 seed last season.
Neither team figured to advance to the NCAAs without the tourney championship, with Indiana State 89th and Bradley 92nd in the latest RPI ratings.
Renn added 16 points and Michael Menser 15 for Indiana State, which won despite missing six free throws in the final two minutes. Gilbert hit a 3-pointer with 6.8 seconds to go for Bradley.
Cage topped his previous career high of 18 points earlier this season against Creighton. Jerome Robinson, Bradley's leading scorer with a 17-point average, was held to seven points on 2-for-9 shooting.
"I let my team down big time," Robinson said.
Indiana State made only two of its first 12 shots and Bradley led 17-6 with 10:08 to go in the first half. But the Sycamores made five consecutive shots in a 20-5 run that put them ahead 26-22 with three minutes to go before the break.
Block had his first 11 points in that run and he added four more in the final 12.7 seconds of the half to give Indiana State a 31-26 lead.
"We were timid at the beginning, then something happened and we relaxed," Block said. "We started running our offense."
Indiana State led by as many as 13 points after consecutive 3-pointers by Menser made it 49-36 with 11:59 to go.
Bradley made it to the finals for the first time since 1996. The Braves last won the tournament in 1988, during the Hersey Hawkins era.
"It's demoralizing to get that close and lose," Gilbert said. "Toward the end, we just let it slip away."