There was a certain feeling of nostalgia for Redbird fans, staff and central Illinois media personnel alike during Saturday night’s game against the Loyola Ramblers. The contest not only brought a 59-50 conference win to the Illinois State men’s basketball team, but it brought home a familiar face — Porter Moser.
Having served at the helm of the Redbirds from 2003-07, Moser, now the head coach at Loyola, received a warm welcome home from Redbird Nation in his first appearance at Doug Collins Court since the Moser era ended seven years ago.
“When I walked in for shootaround [on Saturday], obviously you have a certain set of emotions that run through you, and I kind of got that out of my system at the shootaround,” Moser said. “When I got [there] for the game, I was in game mode. But I will say, when I walked out, I was really pleased. It was really gracious in how many people yelled my name. Like I’ve said many, many times — I said it when I left seven years ago, I’ll say it again now — there’s some amazing, great, cultured people here.”
Moser’s return to Redbird Arena would be the most riveting event in the first half of the contest however, as the teams both struggled to find comfort on the offensive side of the game, scoring just 27 points apiece before halftime. Both teams sported dismal field goal percentages as neither team hit the 30-percent range until near the three-minute mark of the first period.
It was the Redbird defense; however, that would carry ISU on to its sixth-straight victory at Redbird Arena.
“We definitely had a really good defensive game,” Nick Zeisloft said. “[But] this can’t be our best [game] if we want to get to where we want to get. It’s a good stepping stone, but we have to use it in the right way.”
“Great defensive effort,” ISU head coach Dan Muller said. “That was a fun game for me because our guys played so hard. We had guys miss shots and they still kept their heads up. As a coach, those games are rewarding.”
Lynch fronted the Redbirds in their defensive effort, compiling three blocks, three steals and five rebounds (four of which were defensive). He also added 11 points to ISU’s scoring campaign.
Zeisloft led the way for ISU on the offensive side of the game with 12 points, while Bobby Hunter and John Jones added 10 points each. The duo also contributed six and seven rebounds, respectively.
“My shot has been feeling really good lately so I’ve just been looking for it at all times,” Zeisloft said. “A shooter needs to be hunting his shot to have confidence.”
Loyola scored first, jumping to a 6-0 lead over the first four minutes of play, as the Redbirds were held scoreless until the 15:31 mark. That basket by Tony Wills kick-started a 7-0 run for the Redbirds, over which the Ramblers were held scoreless for over six minutes. The run was capped off on a three-pointer by Zeisloft that gave ISU its first lead of the game at 7-6.
The lead teeter-tottered throughout the first half until it came to a knot at 27s at halftime. Zeisloft carried the Redbirds into the locker room, nailing four shots beyond the arc.
The two teams came out of the break slow, as neither scored for the first two and a half minutes. But back-to-back layups from Lynch and Paris Lee would give the Redbirds a 31-27 advantage.
The ISU defense continued to smother Loyola and held the Ramblers to just two points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, as the Redbirds’ lead grew to 40-29 after Lee connected on a three-pointer from the corner with 9:39 left in the game.
ISU’s lead grew to as many as 14 points at 46-32, before five straight points by Loyola cut the lead to single digits at 46-39 with just over five minutes left in the game. That would be as close as the Ramblers would get, as the Redbirds maintained a double-digit lead until the final seconds of the game to come away with the victory.
The Redbirds will hit the hardwood on Doug Collins Court again Wednesday as they take on MVC rival Evansville at 7:05 p.m.