In this edition of the MVC round table, we hit up the most experienced members of our group — some among them can remember tournament games at Kiel Auditorium — for their memories of Arch Madness.
1. Best tournament game you’ve covered?
It was not the best-played game, but my choice is Northern Iowa’s 79-74 victory over Missouri State — in double-overtime — for the 2004 championship. It was win-or-bust for both teams, as neither had a prayer for an NCAA at-large or, if I recall correctly, even an NIT invite. Both teams had numerous opportunities to win in regulation and in the first overtime. Finally, the Panthers outlasted the Bears — who were playing their final basketball game as “Southwest” Missouri State prior to the name change.
— Lyndal Scranton, Tailgate Guys Radio
As far as a competitive, well-played championship game, I’ll go with the 2012 matchup between Creighton and Illinois State, won by Creighton 83-79 in overtime. Doug McDermott had 33 points for the Bluejays in a back-and-forth classic.
As far as sheer drama, I have to go back to the 1996 semifinal between Bradley and Missouri State. Bradley won 64-62 on a last-second desperation no-look heave by Deon Jackson to advance to the title game and ensure the Braves an at-large NCAA bid.
— Dave Reynolds, Peoria Journal Star
Though Indiana State won the 2011 Tournament, and there were plenty of memorable moments in that run (Jake Odum buzzer-beater in quarters, taut games against WSU and MSU in semifinals and finals), I’d still have to go with the bizarre 2006 play-in game the Sycamores played against Drake.
The Sycamores scored 10 in the first half and I thought I was watching the worst Sycamore performance I’d ever seen. Then they turn around and score 62 in the second half to win the game. At the time, it was the record for least and most points scored in a half as well as lowest and highest shooting percentage (don’t have stats in front of me) by half in MVC Tournament history.
I believe all of those records have since been broken, but what a wild game that was in what had been a wild season for the Sycamores.
— Todd Golden, Terre Haute Tribune Star
SIU’s game against Missouri State in 2011 tops them all for me. The Salukis entered the tournament as the eight seed, beat ninth-seeded Illinois State in the opening round and had top-seeded Missouri State down nine points with under three minutes to go. It was nearly the biggest upset in the history of the tournament.
Kyle Weems, who hit the game-winning jumper over Carlton Fay with about two seconds to go, refused to allow that. The Bears scored the last 11 points to escape and made it all the way to the finals before Indiana State and Jake Odum took ‘em out. SIU opened the door with missed free throws and missed shots, and Missouri State got a really long 3 from Adam Leonard and then Weems’ shot on a clear-out on the right side.
— Todd Hefferman, The Southern Illinoisan
Has to be the 1996 semifinal between Bradley and Missouri State (well, still Southwest Missouri State then). Bradley was the No. 1 seed, but the teams had split the season series, each winning at home. It was a close game throughout. Both schools’ fans were there in force. In Bradley’s case, the Braves hadn’t been to a tournament championship game since 1988 and Hersey Hawkins, so there was an air of expectation combined with the nerves. SMS seemed to control much of the game, with Bradley never being quite able to get over the hump.
It comes down to the final seconds, Bradley down a point and having to go length of the court. Most interesting was that Bradley coach Jim Molinari designed the play for Player of the Year Anthony Parker to feed the post for the potential game-winner. Parker drives the court, but the off-ball screening broke down in the paint, and Parker’s pass rattled off Deon Jackson’s hands and the ball starts rolling to the left wing. The Bradley fans moan, the SMS fans roar, and you figure that’s it. But Jackson sprints after the ball, scoops it up with his back to the basket as he crosses the 3-point arc, and turns and flings.
Swish. Bradley wins, 64-62. SMS fans go silent, Bradley fans roar, Jackson goes sprinting around the court with his teammates chasing him. Postlude: The next fall, at MVC Media Day, a reporter asks SMS coach Steve Alford about Jackson’s shot. I don’t have the quote in front of me, but it was basically: “That was not a shot. I was a shooter, and that was not a shot.”
Whatever. It went in.
— Kirk Wessler, Peoria Journal Star
Creighton ruined three good stories with its controversial win over Wichita State in the 2009 quarterfinals.
WSU’s J.T. Durley dominated the second half to bring the Shockers back from 18 down in the final 6:52. He scored all 17 of his points in the second half.
WSU’s Toure Murry made a three with nine seconds to play to give WSU a 62-61 lead. Murry made game-winning threes twice earlier in the MVC schedule. He thought he had a third until Creighton’s Booker Woodfox made his much-disputed shot in the final two seconds for a 63-62 win.
Durley, monumental Shockers rally and epic Bluejays collapse, Murry dagger. Great stuff.
Then things really got crazy.
— Paul Suellentrop, The Wichita Eagle
2. Maybe you were there for Deon Jackson’s shot or Royce Waltman’s farewell speech or Booker Woodfox. What’s your favorite MVC Tournament memory?
Royce Waltman’s speech was an all-timer. But for me, nothing will top the absolute shock and awe of Deon Jackson’s fling-it-in shot at the horn to save Bradley from a semifinal upset by Missouri State in the 1996 tourney. The shot remains a video-replay favorite this time of the year and still makes veteran Bears’ fans cringe to this day.
I vote for Deon’s shot. While I can vividly recall the stunning moment as it unfolded just a few yards from me, what I remember most fondly are the stories behind the story.
When Jackson’s unlikely fling brought the Braves victory, he had a look of absolute shock on his face. Then he began to dash around the court holding his head. At the time, everyone thought he was just excited for hitting the game-winner. But it later surfaced that he had a severe case of claustrophobia and was running desperately away from his teammates so they wouldn’t pile on top of him.He succeeded.
The other fond memory I have is of the postgame press conference with Bradley coach Jim Molinari. Throughout Deon’s career, his relationship with Molinari was similar to that of a petulant, but lovable child and a stern father. Deon had a strong inside game, but liked to shoot 3s, of which Coach Mo usually didn’t approve. So I asked Mo in the press conference whether it was OK with him for Deon to shoot a 3 in that situation. Mo just shook his head and said, “Oh, Dave.”
The Royce Waltman speech was definitely a personal moment for me as the question that prompted his speech was about my story on his being let go. The deal in place at the time with ISU brass was that Waltman was supposed to keep his dismissal on the down low until the Monday after Arch Madness, but some ISU trustees were blabbing about it anyway, and that didn’t sit right with the very proud Waltman. He could have ripped me for the story I wrote, but he didn’t, and instead, launched into an eloquent speech.
However, the best moment and best game I’ve witnessed was the 2009 WSU-Creighton game, the Booker Woodfox “Two Dribbles And A Ham Sandwich” Game.
The final shot is what’s remembered, but it’s forgotten what a great game that was from halftime on. I had already completed my ISU duties that day and just watched it like everyone else did. The byplay between the fan bases was outstanding. It was a great atmosphere.
The after-game rancor was equally entertaining. Gregg Marshall was not yet the golden boy of the league, in fact, he was the black hat of the MVC at the time. I distinctly remember his stare-down with Doug Elgin in the hallways of Scottrade. It was tense.
I wasn’t there for any of those three in person, but I remember watching Woodfox’s shot against Wichita State on TV at Mike Shannon’s Steakhouse down the street. In between downing a porterhouse steak I turned to watch the last few seconds, and the whole bar erupted when he hit it. The steak was fantastic, too.
SIU hasn’t had a lot of success at the event since I started in 2008, but I’d say the run in 2014 to the semifinals was unexpected and enjoyable. Anthony Beane came of age, and Desmar Jackson was one of the most exciting players to watch in the event. SIU lost by three to Indiana State in the semifinals.
Lots of favorites, but I think it has to be The Stallings Stare.
It was 1997 semifinal between Illinois State and UNI. Northern was controlling the first half and ISU was in all sorts of foul trouble. In the final minutes, ISU’s Dan Muller picks up his third foul on a Jason Daisy drive. Media timeout follows the whistle, and ISU coach Kevin Stallings never goes to the team huddle. Instead, he marches to the end of the bench and spends the entire timeout glaring at John Higgins, who had made the call. I don’t think Stallings blinked the whole time.
As so often happens, that moment turned the momentum. Northern went up nine points after Daisy finished the and-1, but ISU came back and won the game and went on to win the tournament. I’ve been covering college basketball for 40 years, and I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff. I watched Johnny Orr sprint into the middle of the court to stop a fast break. I saw Norm Stewart channel his minor-league pitching career and go into a full windup and fire a fast ball at official Johnny Overby.
And I’ve seen countless coaches berate officials and get T’d or tossed. But I’ve never seen a coach do what Stallings did. Never said a word. Just glared, like the Sphinx.
The Wichita State-Creighton rivalry got better and better through the years and it was fun to watch it play out in close quarters in St. Louis. The fans competed to fill the most seats, the teams had a healthy dislike and respect and knew they measured themselves against each other.
The 2009 quarterfinal game produced crazy drama. The 2013 title game provided two top-level teams playing well for 40 minutes.
3. What’s your recommendation for a restaurant in St. Louis?
When you’re in St. Louis, at least for me, it comes down to a choice between Italian and BBQ. For Italian, a trip to The Hill is a must. There are literally a half-dozen or so places where you can’t go wrong, but my choice is Cunetto’s House of Pasta. Great, great food for a reasonable price. For BBQ, I always stop in Eureka at Super Smoker’s and see my friend Terry Black who’s been called The Godfather of St. Louis BBQ. Many of the hot BBQ joints in STL (the guys who run Pappy’s and Bogarts apprenticed under Black) and I’m loyal to Super Smokers.
So many choices, especially since my foodie son has located there. My favorite is probably Pappy’s, the iconic downtown bar-b-q joint. Prepare to get there early in the day and prepare to wait in line. But it is so worth it.
We scribes don’t get out much during Arch Madness, but there’s a few I like. Tucker’s In Soulard is a nice sit-down steak place. Michael’s Bar and Grill on Manchester Road is good. There’s a place in Clayton called Cafe Manhattan that has really good burgers. None of those are within walking distance of Scottrade, so not sure how helpful that is.
Like a lot of you I don’t get out much during the actual tournament, but my family visits St. Louis a lot because of the proximity. And the zoo. If you’re ever free for lunch, there is a fantastic family-owned Italian place called Adriana’s in The Hill district, on Shaw Boulevard. It’s only open during the day but the food is worth the drive, and there’s a great coffee place down the street — Shaw’s Coffee.
Due to the tournament schedule, we don’t get to hit the restaurants much. But depending on what you seek, I have three places I like to hit when I’m in the Lou: If you’re going to The Hill for Italian, I recommend Giovanni’s on Shaw Street. There are lots of great Italian places, but that one is my favorite. If you want great BBQ and atmosphere, check out Highway 61 Roadhouse and Kitchen in Webster Groves, just off I-44. For pub food — and sometimes a good band, plus a nice dining patio in good weather — I like the Train Wreck Saloon in Westport Plaza, which is in the northwest corner of the city, just inside the I-270 beltway.
Zia’s. Get there early.
4. You’re drafting a team from MVC schools during your time covering the conference. Who is your first pick?
Fred Van Vleet. The Valley’s always been a guard-centric league and nobody’s run the show better and won more games as a point guard that Van Vleet. Nobody’s ever made the people around him better the way Van Vleet has.
So many good teams over the years. The Southern Illinois dynasties in the mid-90s and early-to-mid 2000s. Bradley in ’96. Tulsa in the mid-90s. Illinois State in ’97 and ’98. All the Creighton editions, particularly the Doug McDermott years. Even Drake in ’08 was an offensive juggernaut.
But the best of them all was Wichita State in 2014. The Shockers rode an undefeated season into the tournament and swept through those three games totally unchallenged. Their two-point loss to Kentucky in the NCAAs — one of the best games I’ve seen on that stage in recent years — showed the national cachet that team owned.
Those Shockers had it all — size, great offense, great defense, toughness and an outstanding coach.
I think wonders could be done with any team built around Fred VanVleet. He’d be my first choice. Pair him up with Darren Brooks, Doug McDermott, Cleanthony Early and Egidijus Mockevicius and that would be a great, traditional starting five.
Darren Brooks is out for me because I started in 2008, and SIU fans will probably kill me for this, but I’d take Fred VanVleet from Wichita State with my first pick. If I had only the second pick to start my team, I’d take Jake Odom from Indiana State. Bryan Mullins was great, but those two players were a bit more gifted, offensively. After that, I’d take Doug McDermott from Creighton, Cleanthony Early from Wichita State, Woodfox, and Osiris Eldridge from Illinois State, and slaughter all of you.
In my time covering the conference? Well, that’s two stretches, since I first covered the league in the 1970s when I was a student. So, I’d have to start with Larry Bird, Maurice Cheeks and Roger Phegley, then add Hersey Hawkins and Doug McDermott. From my second stretch, which began in the late 1980s, I’d go with Hersey Hawkins, Fred VanVleet, Doug McDermott, Chad Gallagher and Cle Early. And I would love, love, love to have Ben Walker coming off the bench.
My 10-year All-MVC team: 1. VanVleet, 2. McDermott, 3. Randal Falker, SIU, 4. Ron Baker, WSU, 5. Patrick O’Bryant, Bradley.