SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP)—The emotion rippled through the arena from the start. The fans saluted the seniors before the game and roared with each made basket once it started.
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.
“If you looked up the definition tonight of happy in the dictionary, you’re probably see a picture of me right now,” Missouri State coach Barry Hinson said after choking back tears. “I’m really happy for those five seniors and I’m extremely happy for our fans for 32 years of commitment to this center and their loyalty to this program.”
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.
“We feed off their energy, so they got us going,” Mitchell said of the crowd for his final home game. “I can’t ask for nothing else but to go out on a win.”
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.
“They played a very inspired game on their senior night and they deserve a lot of credit for how well they played,” Drake coach Keno Davis said. “They made a few shots early and rode that momentum.”
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.
“One shot goes in and everybody plays with confidence,” Lamberth said.
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.
“The momentum thing at halftime I usually don’t put a lot into,” Davis said. “When you lose and think about the other team making that shot, you use that as an excuse, but I don’t really put anything into that last-second shot at the half.”
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.
“This was a top-10 prayer night,” said Hinson, who couldn’t watch Lamberth’s final two misses. “Boy, if I’d have had rosary beads, I’d have had them out. I was really happy Deven got that interception.”