Once it was over, after Deven Mitchell intercepted Drake's last gasp, the fans spilled out onto the Bear emblem at center court, jumping in unison with the players as they celebrated one of the most emotional nights in Missouri State history.
Mitchell scored 20 points and Missouri State closed the John Q. Hammons Student Center with the perfect ending, holding off No. 20 Drake 86-83 on Tuesday night.
Coach Barry Hinson said he was the "definition of happy tonight".. the entire time holding back tears.
Revved up by a boisterous crowd in the 494th and final game at Hammons-the $67 million JQH Arena is going up next door-Missouri State (15-15, 7-10 Missouri Valley) broke out to big leads early in each half, then withstood a barrage of 3-pointers by Drake to beat the Bulldogs for the seventh straight time at home.
Dale Lamberth scored all of his 16 points in the second half and the Bears shot 59 percent, making just enough free throws down the stretch to hold off the charging Bulldogs.
Drake (24-4, 13-3) made six 3-pointers in a 4-minute span to cut into a 17-point lead, then trimmed it to 85-83 on Adam Emmenecker's driving layup. Missouri State gave the Bulldogs a chance with poor free-throw shooting, but Mitchell stole the long inbound pass with 2.1 seconds left, giving Drake its third loss in five games after a school-record 21-game winning streak.
Josh Young led Drake with 18 points, and Leonard Houston and Jonathan Cox added 17 each.
The Bears hounded Drake into difficult shots early on and seemed to make everything they looked at on the other end, using an 11-2 run to go up 25-13 midway through the first half. Missouri State blocked five shots-three by Drew Richards-and was 15-of-26 from the field in the first half, working the crowd into a frenzy.
After withstanding that initial surge, Drake gradually chipped away at the lead, pulling within 38-36 after a failed long pass by Missouri State turned into a 30-footer by Houston at the buzzer.
But any momentum Drake had stayed in the locker room. The Bulldogs started the second half with more poor shooting-4-of-13-and let Missouri State pull the crowd back into it with open layups and 3-pointers.
The Bears opened the half with an 8-2 run, then poured it on midway through, using a 16-2 spurt-capped by Lamberth's runner-to go up 66-49 with just over 8 minutes left.
Still, there were some tense moments down the stretch. Drake used full-court pressure and some long 3-pointers to get back into the game a second time, trimming a 17-point lead down to three. Missouri State gave the Bulldogs plenty of extra chances, missing three of four free throws in the final 26 seconds, but Drake missed two 3-pointers and had its final gasp end in Mitchell's hands.
Having closed out the run of its gym with an upset of No. 20 Drake, Missouri State ends its regular season Saturday at Indiana State.
But oh what a special night Tuesday.
The 86-83 upset of the Bulldogs gave the Bears two consecutive wins as they followed up a BracketBuster victory over Central Michigan.
The twin wins lifted Mo-State to 15-15, 7-10 in the Missouri Valley Conference, where the Bears hope to grab the No. 6 slot in the final regular-season standings and thus avoid a first-round game in the conference tournament next week.
- Jay (MISSOURI STATE BEARS)