It’s probably an over-simplification to say that one game charted a Titanic-like course for Missouri State’s once-proud basketball program, but let’s re-visit a defining moment.
On January 11, 2014 the Bears had the look of a program on the rise. With an 12-3 record and a rowdy gathering of 10,775 fans jamming into JQH Arena on a cold Saturday night, Missouri State surged to 19-point lead over unbeaten Wichita State with just under 12 minutes remaining.
What happened the rest of the way was nothing short of a meltdown of epic proportions for the home team. Wichita State stormed back, rattling the Bears’ with full-court pressure. The Shockers forced overtime on Fred Van Vleet’s late three-point play.
During overtime, Missouri State leading scorer Marcus Marshall injured his knee. He played through it at the time, the severity not immediately evident. Wichita State pulled out a 72-69 victory – the closest test during its 34-0 regular season.
The Bears were one basket, one defensive stop, perhaps one fewer turnover from preventing the unbeaten season and Wichita State’s eventual No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, that loss sent the Missouri State program into a spiral that it’s arguably never recovered from.
Marcus Marshall has knee surgery four days later. He did not play again as the Bears finished that season 8-10 en route to a 20-13 overall record and first-round CollegeInsider.com tourney loss to Murray State.
The next season saw the Bears go 11-20 with Marshall and Lusk having a falling out on Jan. 14, 2015 – nearly a year to the day after the defining loss to the Shockers. Marshall, now the leading scorer in the Mountain West Conference for Nevada, never played another minute for the Bears.
I’ve never cast blame as I’m sure there was plenty on both sides of the Marshall/Lusk relationship. But losing a player of Marshall’s talent set the program back. The rebuilding Bears went 13-16 in 2015-16.
Now, at 16-15 as Wichita State visits JQH Arena on Saturday for the regular-season finale, a once-promising season has come apart at the seams.
The Bears are 5-10 since guard Ronnie Rousseau departed the team for “personal reasons.” Attendance has tanked.
That night of Jan. 11, 2014 – when the Missouri State program was trending upward and the crowd roaring – seems much longer than three years and change.
It seems even longer since that February day six years ago that the Bears beat the Shockers and cut down the nets to celebrate the school’s lone Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title. Missouri State has lost 13 in a row to the Shockers (by an average margin of 19.7 points) since.
Most damning of all, apathy has set in. Missouri State is averaging 4,021 fans per home game. There seems little buzz about the Shockers coming to town. There could more more noise from those wearing black and yellow in JQH Arena on Saturday than those in maroon.
What a difference three years makes.