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Top Ten Arch Madness Play-In/Quarterfinal Games of the Decade

We are just over a week away from Arch Madness and I won’t be attending this year, but I have attended every year before this since 2004. I have seen some pretty solid basketball in that time. As the event approaches, I thought I would look back at some of the best games of the last decade, starting with the play-in games and the quarterfinals. Below are my top ten play-in/quarterfinal Arch Madness games of the last decade.

Honorable Mentions

When I initially picked out games as candidates these nine caught my attention, but none ultimately made the list.

-2012 Quarterfinals: #3 Evansville 72, #6 Missouri State 64: Notable for the fact that UE won a quarterfinal game which is pretty rare (see also: 2016 Quarterfinals #2 Evansville 66, #7 Missouri State 56).

-2014 Quarterfinals: #6 Southern Illinois 63, #3 Northern Iowa 58: Salukis hold off a furious UNI rally from 19 down with 15 minutes to go to advance to the semifinals.

-2015 Play-In: #10 Bradley 52, #7 Drake 50 OT: Went down to the wire in both regulation and OT, with Bradley hitting two controversial free throws with 2 seconds left to seal it. BU went on to get blown out by #11 UNI in the next round.

-2016 Play-In: #7 Missouri State 69, #10 Drake 67: Reed Timmer and Drake rallied late to take the lead, but Ryan Kreklow answered with a three for MSU that ultimately allowed the Bears to advance (then lose to Evansville the next day).

-2016 Quarterfinals: #1 Wichita State 66, #8 Loyola 58: Ramblers almost pulled a massive upset over the Shockers who needed an 11-0 run in the final four minutes to come from behind and win.

-2018 Quarterfinals: #1 Loyola 54, #9 Northern Iowa 50: The Panthers had a three-pointer in the air that would have tied the game and possibly sent it to OT. Had Loyola lost, their 2018 story would be VERY different.

-2019 Quarterfinals: #5 Bradley 61, #4 Missouri State 58: MSU led by seven at half and it was back and forth most of the way before Bradley pulled away late. Noteworthy because it was the first game of BU’s run to their first Arch Madness title.

-2020 Play-In: #7 Valpo 58, #10 Evansville 55: The winless Aces had two chances to tie the game late but couldn’t do it, igniting an historic Valpo run to the finals as the 7-seed.

-2020 Quarterfinals: #8 Drake 77, #1 Northern Iowa 56: The Bulldogs become the first team in over two decades to win a quarterfinal game after coming out of the play-in round, and the first ever to knock off the #1 seed in the quarterfinals, less than a week after getting blown out by UNI on their home court.

THE TOP 10 #10.) 2015 Quarterfinals- #4 Illinois State 71, #5 Evansville 67

Led by 17 points from Deonte Hawkins, the 4th seeded Redbirds came back from down six at halftime to win this one. Evansville took the lead with 3:36 to go on a free throw by Egidijus Mockevicius (name copied and pasted to ensure accuracy), but Reggie Lynch immediately answered and Hawkins followed with a three. UE battled back and had a DJ Balentine three-pointer in the air that would have tied it with 22 seconds left but it missed, and ISU held on. This one is most notable for setting up an epic semifinal game with top seeded Wichita State the next day that ISU would win to move onto the title game.

This game is on the list purely because it was a very entertaining contest. Reed Timmer’s last stand for DU had Drake winning by eight at halftime. Bradley opened the second half on a 12-0 run and controlled the first part of the second frame. Drake battled back and we had back-and-forth excitement for the next ten minutes. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Reed Timmer’s 3-pointer with 6:29 to go would be their last basket of the day. But they stayed in it with defense and free throws and after Bradley’s leading scorer Darrell Brown tied it with a three with 2:29 to go it stayed that way for almost the rest of the game. Bradley broke through on a putback with 1.2 second to go to get the win. They advanced to lose a competitive game to the Final Four Loyola Ramblers the next day.

#8.) 2019 Quarterfinals- #6 Northern Iowa 61, #3 Southern Illinois 58

This one gets bonus points both for setting up an unlikely run to the finals and the postgame dramatics that followed. There were not high expectations for the Panthers going into this tournament with a 14-17 record. But they held a halftime lead and controlled most of the second half, led by 21 points from Wyatt Lohaus. After UNI took an 11-point lead with 8:41 to go, SIU slowly chipped away at the lead and ultimately took the lead on an Aaron Cook three-pointer with 31 seconds to go. UNI answered on a basket by AJ Green, a defensive stop, and two free throws by Spencer Haldeman for the win. Barry Hinson retired after the game and Lohaus would up his heroics the next day for UNI as they advanced to the title game by beating #2 Drake.

#7.) 2013 Quarterfinals- #5 Indiana State 51, #4 Evansville 50

This was a back-and-forth game from the start as ISU had a two-point halftime lead. Indiana State extended the lead to ten midway through the second half, but UE battled back with a 14-2 run to reclaim the lead at 48-46 with 6:18 to go. As Arch Madness games can tend to do, both teams tightened up down the stretch. The game was tied at 48 with 5:44 to go and 50 with 3:05 to go. After three scoreless minutes ISU won the game on a Justin Gant free throw with 2 seconds to go following a foul on Egidijus Mockevicius (name copied and pasted to ensure accuracy). Ned Cox had a chance to win it for Evansville in the final second, but his effort was blocked to seal the win for ISU. The Sycamores lost to Creighton in the next round.

Bonus points are given to games that launched runs for the winner, and this one was the start of a title run for Bradley. On perhaps the craziest quarterfinal Friday in Arch Madness history that saw each of the top three teams go down, BU hung on for a close win to be the only favorite to win their game. They ultimately took advantage of the weakened field to beat Drake and Valpo, both squads that had to play in the play-in round, to win the title. Darrell Brown (19 points) and Elijah Childs (16 points) paced the Braves in the win that could have gone either way. The game went back and forth, back and forth, until there were only 19 seconds to go. A Ja’Shon Henry 3-point play, a stop of SIU leading scorer Lance Jones, and free throws by Darrell Brown finally salted the game away.

#5.) 2016 Quarterfinals- #4 Northern Iowa 66, #5 Southern Illinois 60

Like the previous contest, this game gets bonus points for igniting an unlikely title run. In this case it was fourth-seeded UNI who started their week with a close win en route to the championship. Jeremy Morgan scored 18 points for UNI who led by just one at the half. The Panthers led for most of the second half, and increased their lead to 12 at one point. But SIU battled back as teams typically do at Arch Madness. A 10-1 SIU run got them within three with just under eight minutes left. After some more back-and-forth the Salukis were able to tie the game on a 3-point play by Armon Fletcher with 2:18 to go. SIU had two chances to take the lead after UNI failed to score on their next two possessions, but weren’t able to do so. UNI finally made two free throws to retake the lead, but SIU answered again to tie it. A driving layup by Wes Washpun with 46 seconds to go gave UNI the lead and after getting a defensive stop they hit all their free throws down the stretch to hold on for a 66-60 win. UNI would go on to win an all-time classic semifinal over Wichita State in another all-time classic final over Evansville to win the title.

If you are looking for the best Arch Madness play-in game of the last decade, look no further. To understand the value of this one, you have to look beyond the box score (although that tells a pretty good story too). This was Loyola’s first Arch Madness as an MVC team, and they brought a strong contingent to St. Louis despite the fact they were repping a last-place team. There was a substantial student-section and a decent amount of fans, and their loyalty was paid off in this one. Loyola actually rode into halftime with an eight-point lead. The lead got as big as 11, and was nine with 6:44 to go when Bradley started to rally. Bradley scratched and clawed for a one-point lead on two Tyshon Pickett free throws with 31 seconds to go, only to see Loyola answer with two free throws by Milton Doyle to retake the lead with 11 seconds left. A foul was called on Loyola to allow Walt Lemon to hit two free throws to give Bradley the lead back with 5 seconds to go. Milton Doyle then took the ball the length of the floor and hit a three pointer at the buzzer to give Loyola the win. The crowd went nuts and it set the tone for Loyola at Arch Madness moving forward (although they lost to second-seed Indiana State the next day).

#3.) 2011 Quarterfinals- #3 Indiana State 52, #6 Evansville 50

I have tended to give bonus points for buzzer beaters, drama, and games that started long runs for their winners. The #3 game on this list may not be remembered by a ton of MVC fans at this point but it had all of those elements. Jake Odum was a true freshman for ISU, but he was already the hero in this one. The Trees only managed 19 first half points and trailed by five at the break. ISU tied the game up early in the second half and it was a slow-moving back-and-forth game from there. That set the stage for the end of game heroics. Ned Cox hit a three to give UE at 50-47 lead with less than two minutes to go but ISU answered with an and-one to tie it up. After a UE turnover, Jake Odum hit a runner in the lane to give the Sycamores the win, 52-50. ISU would beat 2nd seeded Wichita the next day and knock off #1 seed Missouri State in the title game to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Last year Drake and Valpo provided the first two quarterfinal victories for play-in teams at Arch Madness in over twenty years, but we came close a few times in between. One of those times was this quarterfinal matchup between regular season champion Missouri State and eighth-seeded Southern Illinois which required a furious rally late by MSU to pull out the win. SIU controlled proceedings in the first half as they jumped out to a 32-24 halftime advantage. MSU chipped away at the lead in the second half several times but was never able to reclaim it. It felt like it was a matter of when not if MSU would rally, but as the clock continued to tick we started to wonder whether the Bears were going to run out of time. A three-point play by Mamadou Seck gave SIU a 51-42 lead with 5:23 to go, and a Justin Bocot layup gave the Salukis a 56-47 lead with 2:49 to go. After that SIU missed the front end of a one-and-one and Adam Leonard (who led all scorers with 20 points) hit a three to get within six. Kyle Weems hit another on the Bears’ next possession to cut the lead to 56-53. After SIU missed yet another front end, Adam Leonard tied the game with a three-pointer with 46 seconds to go. The Bears got a defensive stop and Larry Bird Trophy winner Kyle Weems hit a runner with 1.4 seconds to go putting the cap on a game-ending 11-0 run to give MSU the 58-56 win. The Bears would beat Creighton the next day before losing to Indiana State (see #3 on this list) in the championship.

#1.) 2020 Quarterfinals- #7 Valpo 74, #2 Loyola 73 OT

The #1 game on my list happened just last year. While it was arguably not even the most shocking game of the day (#1 UNI getting trounced took that title) it was certainly the best. Valpo rallied from down 18 points, despite Larry Bird Trophy runner-up Javon Freeman Liberty only contributing six points, to upset second seeded Loyola and become just the second team of the millennium (and of the day) to advance from the play-in round to the semifinals at Arch Madness. Loyola was expected to control this game and they did early, taking a 36-22 lead into the break. The lead got as large as eighteen, 45-27, early in the second half. The Crusaders, as they were then known, did not get it all back at once. They slowly cut into the Rambler lead over the course of the next several minutes leaving the Loyola feeling like a lobster who isn’t noticing the water coming to a slow boil. The Loyola lead was still 11 at the 7:18 mark, and was ten at 4:17, and nine at 2:50. Trailing by six with less than thirty seconds to play, John Kiser hit a three-pointer for Valpo. After a pair of missed Loyola free throws by Aher Uguak, a Ryan Fazekas three tied the game and another stop sent it to OT. Only eleven total points were scored in OT, and Valpo led until a pair of free throws by Cameron Krutwig put Loyola up one with 13 seconds to go. John Kiser then drove the lane and drew defenders as he passed it off to Eron Gordon for an easy layup with three seconds left. Valpo held on for a thrilling OT win. They would go on to make more history the next day by beating Missouri State to become the first MVC team to make it from Thursday to the title game.

And that’s it. I have already looked at Arch Madness title games, and that write up can be found here. I will look at the semifinals next week in advance of the start of the tournament. There are some doozies in that round.

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