ST. LOUIS — Osiris Eldridge had 13 points and eight rebounds and Illinois State was 8-for-16 from 3-point range, advancing to the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament with a 56-42 victory over Northern Iowa on Saturday.
Boo Richardson added nine points and five assists for the second-seeded Redbirds (24-8), who’ll play top seed Drake (27-4) in the championship game today. Behind first-year coach Tim Jankovich, Illinois State made it to the final for the first time since 1998 when it won both the regular-season title and tournament.
The No. 2 seed has won 13 of 31 tournament championships, more than any other seed. The top seed has prevailed 10 times.
Eric Coleman had 14 points and 15 rebounds, his 16th double-double of the season, for Northern Iowa. The sixth-seeded Panthers (18-14) upset third seed Southern Illinois in the quarterfinals and have won six in a row and eight of nine.
Illinois State held Northern Iowa to 31.8 percent shooting and has held its last four straight opponents below 60 points. Adam Viet, who had 19 points in the quarterfinals with six 3-pointers, was 1-for-7 and had three points.
Illinois State was in control after a 15-3 first-half run, with five players contributing, made it 19-7 with about 6 1-2 minutes left. Northern Iowa, which split a pair of regular-season meetings with Illinois State, pulled to 49-42 on a short bank shot by Coleman with 5:02 to go before missing its last seven shots.
Eldridge, who was 3-for-7 from 3-point range, needed dental work and had to wear a mouth guard after chipping a tooth in the quarterfinals. He had 10 points in the first half but missed his first five shots in the second half before hitting a 3-pointer for a 56-42 lead with just over two minutes to go.