With some late-game heroics from senior guard Tyreke Key, No. 4-seeded Indiana State University defeated No. 5-seeded University of Evansville 53-43 in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament March 5. Key finished with 19 points — including the final seven points in the game to seal the win for the Sycamores — and nine rebounds.
Evansville’s Shamar Givance scored a layup to bring the Purple Aces within three points of Indiana State with 5:54 left in the game. From that point on, Key was the only player on either team to put the ball through the hoop.
Key started by splitting a pair of free throws to put the Sycamores up four with 4:43 to go. Both teams struggled offensively until Key sank a shot to put Indiana State ahead 49-43 with 1:23 left in the game. He went 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final minute of the game to put the Purple Aces away.
“Every game is going to be tough, none of these are guaranteed,” Key said. “Survive and advance, it’s just a gritty win and a great win.”
With the victory, Key and the Sycamores advance to play No. 1-seeded Loyola in the semifinals March 6 at noon. Loyola knocked off No. 9-seeded Southern Illinois University in the quarterfinals.
Even before his late game performance against Evansville, Key was a player to watch against Loyola. He led the Sycamores in scoring during the regular season — averaging 17.4 points per game — and was named First Team All-MVC. He struggled at times against Evansville, shooting 5-for-14 in his first game back from suffering a right shoulder injury in practice Feb. 21.
Joining Key as a regular season honoree for Indiana State is Jake Laravia, who earned Second Team All-MVC. The sophomore forward filled up the stat sheet against Evansville, scoring eight points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out five assists.
Indiana State led Evansville 31-29 at halftime. Although the Sycamores came away with the victory, Laravia was quiet in the second half. He posted just two points on 1-for-5 shooting. As a team, the Sycamores struggled to score in the second half, finishing with 22 points in the period. Ultimately it didn’t matter, as Indiana State held Evansville to just 14 points in the final 20 minutes.
“When things aren’t falling on the offensive end, you’ve got to pick your defense up and just play through your defense,” Indiana State sophomore center Tre Williams said.
After shooting 52.2 percent in the first half, the Purple Aces’ shooting percentage plummeted to 19.2 percent after the break — including going 1-for-12 from beyond the arc.
“[Indiana State has] terrific balance, they were very assertive and aggressive defensively but not reckless,” Evansville head coach Todd Lickliter said. “I thought both teams defended hard. I think our guys gotta be really spent.”
The Purple Aces played just seven total players, and all five starters logged at least 34 minutes in the game. Senior guard Noah Frederking and senior forward Evan Kuhlman scored 10 points apiece for Evansville. After the game, Kuhlman repeatedly said the team was “not satisfied” following the loss.
“Indiana State made it difficult,” Kuhlman said. “All year, we’ve kind of struggled against a little bit of pressure, and today we just weren’t able to handle it well enough. Hats off to [the Sycamores]. They did a pretty good job of guarding us in the second half.”
Junior guard Givance was named to the Second Team All-MVC this season but struggled against the Sycamores, finishing with eight points on 4-for-14 shooting. He recorded four rebounds and four assists, but he also committed six of Evansville’s 11 turnovers.
For Indiana State, Williams was the only other player to reach double figures. He finished with 10 points on 62.5 percent shooting to go along with six rebounds. Williams was awarded MVC All-Defensive Team honors.
Looking ahead to the Sycamores’ matchup with the Ramblers, Indiana State was one of just two teams to beat the Ramblers during conference play. Loyola lost to Indiana State 76-71 on the road Jan. 10 but followed that loss with a 10-point win over the Sycamores the next night. Key finished with 31 points in the Jan. 10 game against Loyola but was limited to seven points in the Jan. 11 loss.
“I think every one of our guys that plays is going to have to have an outstanding performance for us to be able to beat Loyola, probably the best defensive team in the country,” Lansing said when asked if Key playing well is necessary to beat the Ramblers.
Indiana State is slated to face-off with Loyola in the semifinals March 6 at noon. The game is scheduled to be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.