Newcomer J.T. Miller led five Missouri State players in double-figures to help the Bears to an 85-80 opening-night victory at Western Kentucky here Friday.
Alize Johnson played just 14 minutes but accounted for 13 points and 8 rebounds, including four key free throws in the final 32.1 seconds.
After the Bears (1-0) built a 22-point lead out of the gates, WKU whittled its way back with ample free throw opportunities and made a game of it late.
With the Bears up 66-57 after a layup by Miller at the 8:30 mark, WKU went on a 7-0 run in the span of 100 seconds to make it a two-point game. But a gutsy layup by Reggie Scurry followed on MSU’s next possession to give coach Paul Lusk’s club some breathing room.
Inside three minutes to go, WKU got a free throw from Darius Thompson to pull within 72-70, but a triple by Ronnie Rousseau III silenced the crowd of more than 5,200 at E.A. Diddle Arena with 2:07 on the clock.
Rousseau scored again on MSU’s next possession and made it 77-72, but the home club did not stop coming with a dunk by Dwight Coleby and a trey by Thompson, the latter of which made it 81-77 with 24.1 to go.
After Johnson missed the second of a two-shot foul chance at the 21.1 mark, Lamonte Bearden drained his third 3-pointer of the night to make it 82-80 with 15 ticks to play.
The Bears dug deep and responded with back-to-back defensive stops, sandwiched in between free throws by Ryan Kreklow and Johnson to seal the five-point win.
Scurry and Rousseau each scored 12 for the Bears, and Obediah Church added 11 points.
MSU shot 55.7 percent from the field and out-rebounded the Hilltoppers, 38-34, on the night.
Western Kentucky finished 28-of-36 (.778) at the foul line and had 12 fewer field goals than the visitors.
Bearden led WKU with 24 points.
Missouri State jumped out of the gates like a Kentucky thoroughbred, building a 26-4 advantage in the first eight minutes and forcing two Hilltopper timeouts.
The game shifted slightly after that with WKU picking up 14 of its next 18 points at the free throw line over the next eight-plus minutes. A charity shot by Thompson with 3:43 to go in the opening stanza made it a 38-22 contest.
(edited news release from Missouri State University)