Mar 7, 2011, 12:55 PM EST
Two clutch free throws helped Indiana State knock off Missouri State in the Missouri Valley title game and send the Sycamores to their first NCAA tournament since 2001.
That Jake Kelly made them was only fitting.
After two seasons at Iowa where he was an honorable mention All-Big Ten player, the Terre Haute native transferred to Indiana State in 2009 because he wanted to be “closer to home” after his mother, Julia, died in a plane crash in June of 2008. He reportedly was having a hard time staying focused on school and on basketball.
“I’ve said it before, there hasn’t been any kid that’s gone through more than Jake Kelly has been,” coach Greg Lansing said afterward. “I’m really, really pleased for him and his entire family. Obviously, things haven’t gone exactly the way he liked it. But he’s going to have a bright future in basketball and he’s going to enjoy this with his teammates.”
Not long after arriving at Indiana State, he tore the ACL in his left knee and missed nearly all of the 2009-10 season. This year, he fought off various injuries and mono before getting his moment on Sunday.
“I think I might have cried a little bit when we won,” he said. “I haven’t cried in a while, but I had a lot of emotions running through me.
“It feels great. It’s what I wanted to do when I came here,” Kelly said. “To actually do it? It feels better than you even think and makes all the hard work worth it.”
The MVC Championship T-shirt that Kelly was wearing also will have a special place of honor.
“I’m not an emotional person, but I think about [his mom] a lot. I have to think she’s looking down on me. I do it all for my family,” Kelly said. “I’m putting this shirt on her grave, I’ll say a few words, and I’m sure she’ll be watching us in the tournament.”
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.
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