Lady Bears head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton said her team has thrived under adversity since she first stepped foot on the campus. Her team proved her right again on Friday afternoon.
Missouri State (10-2, 1-0) dominated defensively in a 55-38 win over Loyola Chicago (8-4, 0-1) in the Missouri Valley Conference opener at JQH Arena. It was the program's 20th-consecutive conference win dating back to the 2019-20 season.
"We faced adversity before this game, during the game and we're just able to come together and see people step up," Agugua-Hamilton said. "It's just gratifying and I'm just really proud of them."
Adversity has struck the Lady Bears multiple times in this season alone. In the Lady Bears' November win over USC, fifth-year senior Abby Hipp tore her ACL in the first quarter. In the final non-conference game of the year, Franklin, who had the looks of the Valley's player of the year and a potential All-American, went down in the second quarter with an ACL tear of her own.
Adversity has been a theme throughout Agugua-Hamilton's three years as head coach to no fault of her own. In her first season, the pandemic ended one of the great seasons in Lady Bears history. In response, the Lady Bears went on a run to the Sweet 16 of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
"You've gotta find a way to continue to go and play," Agugua-Hamilton said. "I think we've always had that 'next woman up' mentality. People have stepped up and that's what it is and that's what it means to be a Lady Bear."
Among those who stepped up for the Lady Bears on Friday were senior Abigayle Jackson and freshman Isabelle Delarue. The two will be counted on heavily moving forward due to the depth the Lady Bears now have in the frontcourt after the two injuries.
Since Franklin's injury on Dec. 21, Agugua-Hamilton has spent her time trying to reinvent the team's offense. The Lady Bears needed to adjust to playing a four-guard offense.
After a few days off of practice for Christmas break, Agugua-Hamilton had three days to implement the offense with players taking on different roles — including Delarue who is one of the team's bigger guards who is now having to play some in the post.
"My dad always told me when I was younger 'you may not always be the scorer in the game, you may need to be the person that needs to lock someone down on defense,'" Delarue said. "I always grew up with that mentality and I think that's what's special about me."
Delarue scored a game-high 13 points for the Lady Bears while also grabbing five boards. She can also stretch the defense as she finished 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.
Jackson also stepped up into a starting role and into the position that was typically held by Franklin. She scored 12 points while grabbing nine rebounds and blocking four shots.
"She knew she could have scored a little bit more but as we get more comfortable, she's going to get up to 18 and 13, easily," Agugua-Hamilton said. "She has to continue to be aggressive."
The one constant from the Lady Bears, no matter who is on the court, has been the team's defense which continues to strive in big ways.
Even after losing the reigning MVC Player of the Year, the Lady Bears held Loyola to 24 percent from the field while forcing 18 turnovers. MSU also outrebounded LUC 48-40 when the Ramblers entered as one of the better rebounding teams in the conference and the Lady Bears lost their top rebounder.
The game did see another starting Lady Bear go down and not return to the game. Mya Bhinhar was helped off the floor during the first half with an apparent ankle injury. She spent the second half on the sideline with her leg elevated and tape around her left ankle. Agugua-Hamilton said after the game that she thinks Bhinhar will be OK.
Missouri State will stay at home for a 1 p.m. game on Sunday against Valparaiso.
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at email@example.com or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. He's also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Missouri State basketball: Lady Bears beat Loyola Chicago