ST. LOUIS — Earlier this decade, Kyle Korver won two Missouri Valley Conference championships at Creighton.
Hours before playing for the Utah Jazz against the Denver Nuggets, he had some advice for a younger brother looking to join the club. Drake senior forward Klayton Korver said Kyle text-messaged him to “have fun and light it up” hours before the top-seeded Bulldogs beat Creighton Saturday to advance to the tournament championship game for the first time in school history.
“He gets animated,” said Klayton Korver, who had 13 points and six rebounds and hit three 3-pointers, one of them from NBA range. “I’m sure he was sitting there screaming at every thing I did, good or bad.
“He’s probably just as excited as I am.”
Klayton Korver, a 6-foot-5 fifth-year senior, keeps in close contact with Kyle, the Valley player of the year in 2002 and 2003 while helping Creighton win consecutive conference tournament titles. The two text message at least three or four times a week.
Klayton Korver is a long-range threat just like his older brother, leading the school in 3-pointers as a freshman and sophomore, and is an integral part of a 27-4 team that has broken the school record for victories.
“It’s been amazing, especially after all the rough seasons we’ve gone through,” Klayton Korver said. “This is great, considering how far this team has come.”
Change at top
Drake’s surprise emergence after years as a Valley doormat under new coach Keno Davis is undoubtedly the conference’s top story. Illinois State’s rise under another first-year coach, Tim Jankovich, is a close second.
The Redbirds, who beat Northern Iowa 56-42 in the semifinals on Saturday, played in the lead-in game of the four-day tournament four of the previous five years. The Redbirds were the seventh seed last year, losing in the first round, and the 10th and last seed in 2006.
“It’s a little surreal,” Jankovich said. “Things have gone very well. I tried real hard not to have an expectation because I’ve never been smart enough to know what that should be.
“I don’t know what to expect from the team and I don’t want to set a ceiling. I definitely don’t want to set a floor, either.”
For Southern Illinois and Creighton, it’s an off-year. Creighton won six of the previous nine conference tournament titles and Southern Illinois’ run of six consecutive NCAA tournament berths will end after losing to sixth seed Northern Iowa in the quarterfinals.
Creighton made it to the NCAA tournament seven of the last nine years, but coach Dana Altman doesn’t expect a call this year.
“Oh, we’re not going to be,” Altman said. “We don’t have enough Top 50 wins. This isn’t one of those years that we can say that we belong.”
Illinois State all-conference guard Osiris Eldridge sports a unique hair style. “O,” as he is known around campus, has a single thick strip of black hair down the middle of his head, surrounded by shaved spots on both sides.
“I call it a mohawk,” Eldridge said. “A lot of people call it an, “O-hawk.”
Eldridge, who tied for the league scoring title with a 16.3-point average, has had some rough going of late. He chipped his front took in Friday’s semifinal win over Missouri State and had a crown put in Friday night. He wore a mouthguard Saturday to protect the tooth.
Drake won a pair of tight regular-season meetings against Illinois State, 73-70 on Feb. 5 on the road and 79-73 on Jan. 19 in Des Moines, Iowa. Illinois State players feel they should have gotten at least a split of the two contests.
“We had them both games,” guard Boo Richardson said. “Could’ve, should’ve just doesn’t do it.”