SPRINGFIELD -- Missouri State (7-3) built its lead over visiting Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to as many as 26 points in the second half and forced 18 turnovers here Monday in a 66-53 victory in the second round of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic.
Using a lineup comprised primarily of reserves in the second half, the Bears added to a 41-19 intermission lead midway through the half. Corey Copeland and Christian Kirk accounted for 13 straight MSU points over a five-minute span. An impressive drive through the lane by Copeland at the 5:49 mark made it a 61-35 game to give the home squad its biggest lead of the night.
Missouri State scored just one field goal the rest of the way, and the Islanders (1-8) had a dunk and four three-pointers in the final 5:15 to make the final count respectable.
Terence Jones scored a game-high 19 points behind five treys for TAMU-CC, which dropped its sixth straight since an overtime win over Utah State on Nov. 22.
The Bears were led by Kirk, a true freshman, with a career-high 13, and Caleb Patterson who matched Kirk's 13 points in just 14 minutes of action. Kyle Weems tallied 11 points and 7 rebounds, and Copeland's 11 points were also a career high. Isaiah Rhine posted a career-high 8 rebounds off the bench, also a game high, while notching 7 points.
"We used a lot of different combinations in the second half, and tried to give a lot of our young guys some quality minutes," said MSU head coach Paul Lusk. "I thought we played very well in the first half and played with a lot of intensity."
In the first 20 minutes, Missouri State forced 13 turnovers and shot an even 50 percent from the field. Patterson was 5-of-7 from the field in the opening stanza to tally 13 points early.
Missouri State put together a 17-2 run over an eight-minute stretch in the first half to lead by as many as 23 before the break. The Bears, who never trailed in the game, turned a 15-8 advantage into a 32-10 lead with the starters hitting on all cylinders on both ends of the floor.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi finished with 18 mishaps in all. The Islanders were 17-for-50 (.340) from the field, including 10-of-23 (.435) from long distance, but were a substandard 9-of-17 (.529) at the line.
Missouri State out-rebounded the Islanders from the Southland Conference by a 43-32 margin. The Bears finished 25-for-62 (.403) from the field, despite making half of their 34 shots in the first stanza. MSU was just 4-of-17 (.235) from three-point range with Copeland knocking down a pair of threes. The home squad, which won for the third straight game, was also 12-for-19 (.632) at the line.
Lusk's club, which is ranked No. 9 in the nation in turnovers (10.6), committed 11 turnovers on the night, but allowed TAMU-CC to snag seven steals.
Also significant for MSU was a solid outing by Corbin Thomas who scored his first three points in a Missouri State uniform. The 2011 NJCAA Division I All-American played 16 minutes and also collected a rebound and a steal. Thomas' efforts played a key part in Missouri State outscoring the Islanders from the bench by a 38-14 margin, the most points scored by the Bears' reserves this season.
The Bears now head to Las Vegas for the finals of the event, starting Thursday at 7 p.m. (Central) against West Virginia at the Orleans Arena. MSU will then play against St. Mary's at 10:30 p.m. Friday to close out the tournament. Both games are being televised on ESPN3.com with live stats through GameTracker at www.MissouriStateBears.com.