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Updated: Sunday, March 7, 2004 8:28 PM EST
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Sms 80, (15) Southern Ill 74

ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Merrill Andrews and Southwest Missouri State picked a good time to earn a second straight victory.

Andrews scored 14 of his points in the second half as the Bears upended No. 15 Southern Illinois, 80-74, to move into the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Southwest Missouri State (19-13) had not won consecutive games since January 21-25. But the Bears have knocked off both finalists from last season - Creighton and Southern Illinois - to move into the championship game for the first time since 2000.

"I've coached Division I seven years and I think this is the third time we've gotten to the championship game," said Bears coach Barry Hinson, whose job has come under scrutiny. "The last time we won I think was in 1992. I think we played with more effort. That was the motivating factor. We had nothing to lose."

Anthony Shavies' jumper with 5:42 remaining snapped a 58-58 tie and triggered a 9-1 run that gave Southwest Missouri State the lead for good. Andrews had a pair of baskets in the surge and Tamarr Maclin's two foul shots made it 67-59 with 3:31 to go.

Southwest Missouri State ended a six-game skid against Southern Illinois, which also knocked out the Bears in the semifinals in each of the last two seasons.

"It feels great," Andrews said. "I told my team before the game that we've got to have it, and this is my first victory against them."

Southern Illinois (25-4) had lost to Creighton in each of the last two title games and has not won this event since 1996. The Salukis, who went 17-1 to earn the top seed, must wait for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth.

"I thought the tempo of the game was to our advantage," Salukis coach Matt Painter said. "They simply made more plays than we did. Give SMS credit. We lost our poise and fouled when we didn't have to."

The Bears will meet No. 2 seed Northern Iowa in Monday's championship. The Salukis' loss marked the sixth straight season that the top seed failed to win the tournament.

Shavies and freshman Blake Ahearn each netted 14 points and Maclin came off the bench and scored 12 for Southwest Missouri State, which shot 61.5 percent in the second half.

The Bears fell behind by as many eight points early, before rallying behind a pair of late 3-pointers from Ahearn to forge a 29-29 tie at halftime.

"We just tried to stay calm and stick to our strengths," Ahearn said. "I got a couple open looks and a couple good picks from my teammates and I just had to knock them down."

MVC Player of the Year Darren Brooks scored 15 points and Stetson Hairston and Brad Korn each chipped in with 14.

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