MOLINE -- For the better part of the first half Friday night, the Missouri State women's basketball squad had a hard time shaking a pesky, sixth-seeded Indiana State crew.
But after working their way to an eight-point halftime lead in Friday's final quarterfinal at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, the Lady Bears stepped on the gas in the second half, nearly doubling that lead after the third quarter and rolling from there to a 70-45 victory.
The night-capping decision assured the top four-seeded teams are in today's semifinals for the first time since 2013, with the final four all reaching the 20-win mark.
The tourney title is decided Sunday, with the winner assured of a berth in the upcoming NCAA national tournament. Missouri State last won the conference crown and earned a ticket to the "Big Dance" in 2006.
``We're very excited to get the win, and move on,'' said Missouri State coach Kellie Harper, whose 22-9, third-seeded club now takes on No. 2 Drake (22-8) in today's second semifinal at 4 p.m. at the iWireless Center.
``Obviously, Drake is a very good team; they way they played (Friday) was what we saw from them in our last outing.''
Having dropped both of their regular-season MVC meetings to the Bulldogs, the Lady Bears hope the momentum of Friday's victory adds up to a different result the third time around.
``It's March,'' said guard Tyonna Snow, who finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. ``Anything can happen. It's survive and advance, and we're going to do anything we can to win.''
With Snow's efforts part of a strong Missouri State trinity that included a game-high 19 points from Kenzie Williams and 16 from Liza Fruendt, the Lady Bears hit their stride early in the third quarter after the Sycamores (13-17) closed the gap to 33-28.
Buckets by Fruendt and Snow fueled the Missouri State surge, with Fruendt scoring in the closing seconds to put her club up 48-33 and effectively take the wind out of Indiana State's sails.
``This is a tough deal,'' said Indiana State coach Joey Wells, who got 15 points and five boards from Cierra Ceazer. ``I thought we battled in the first half and had some momentum. Then, they got aggressive in the second half, and we started turning the ball over. That was the big thing.''
After taking an 11-10 lead on a Snow layup with 29 seconds left in the first quarter, the Lady Bears saw the Sycamores knot the game at 15-15 on a Joyea Marshall 3-pointer before going on a 6-0 spurt to take the biggest lead by either team up to that point.
Indiana State battled back to within 21-19 just past the midway point of the second period, only to see Missouri State go on a 10-2 run to take its first double-digit lead, with a Fruendt trey with 31 seconds left capping the run. The Sycamores were able to get back within single digits on Ceazer's layup as time expired.
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