Kid in a candy store, part two

By Tyler Dixon

My first Arch Madness as a sports reporter has so far been exciting, overwhelming and stressful all wrapped into one.

The butterflies started Thursday when I was walking to the back entrance of the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. It was only an afternoon of practices and then two play-in games but it was still the opening day of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

The MVC tournament is one of the premier mid-major tournaments in the country. It rivals the West Coast Conference and the Atlantic-10 tournaments. Most of the day’s talk concerned Wichita State University, which is well deserved, but there were nine other teams that made the trip to St. Louis to attempt to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

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I was able to watch the shoot around for the Shockers, Illinois State University, Indiana State University and SIU. When most fans go to the tournament, they watch the games and don’t really get a sense of the teams as people but as objects. Dana Ford, the associate head coach for Illinois State is a family friend and we found time to catch up right in the middle of his team’s shoot around. Yes, we talked about basketball but it wasn’t the way a coach would talk to a reporter. It was a different type of conversation. This is what makes the Valley great. Every person that works in the Valley or covers it can relate to each other in one way or another.

After the practices, there were two play-in games to determine who would advance to the quarterfinals.

Evansville University took on Drake University in the first semi-final. One of my favorite players in the Valley is Purple Aces sophomore D.J. Balentine, and he did not disappoint. Balentine scored 30 points in his team’s win. Evansville big man Egidijus Mockevicious had 19 points and 10 rebounds along with eight blocks; his eight blocks were an MVC Tournament record.

The later game featured conference newcomer Loyola University-Chicago against Bradley University. Rambler freshman Milton Doyle hit a 3-pointer with a second left to edge the Braves 74-72.

Friday will be a full day, starting with watching the Shockers take on Evansville and ending with the Salukis taking on the Northern Iowa University Panthers. SIU shot well in the shoot around today and team members had calm but determined demeanors about their play on the court. In the press conference Coach Hinson, sophomore Anthony Beane and Senior Desmar Jackson were asked how the team has progressed since Hinson’s rant at Murray State University in December.

Beane and Jackson said that press conference made the team stronger and made them realize they needed to play together as a team.

This is the mindset the team must have if they want to have a chance this weekend.

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Follow @DEsalukis and @tdixon_DE on Twitter for updates on the MVC tournament.

Tyler Dixon can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @tdixon_de.

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