With 18 seconds left in Wednesday night’s men’s basketball game between Illinois State and Evansville, Redbird Fans — assuming defeat — began filtering out of the stands prematurely, soon realizing that the game was far from over.
Daishon Knight’s clutch three-pointer with 8.4 seconds left in regulation would draw fans back into the arena as the two teams headed into a five-minute overtime period tied at 70s, ultimately leading to a 79-78 Illinois State Valley victory thanks to a late Zach Lofton trey. The Redbirds are now perched on a 3-2 Missouri Valley Conference record (10-7 overall) and a seven-game home win streak.
“The clock was running down, and I think I heard the coaches or players saying ‘shoot it,’ so I just shot it,” Knight said.
“As a team, if somebody brings us back like that, we’re like ‘ok, we’re here, we have this chance, we’re not going to give it up,’ ” Lofton said.
The contest was nothing short of a nail-biter throughout, with the Redbirds and Purple Aces exchanging baskets cyclically and trading leads 13 times.
Lofton led the ’Birds offensively, tallying a career-high of 21 points, including four shots-beyond-the-arc. Knight compiled 16 points with two treys, while Bobby Hunter rounded out ISU’s double-digit scorers with 10 points.
Knight, speaking to his offensive slump prior to Wednesday’s game, noted confidence as being key in his performance last night.
“I just have to keep working, and it starts with practice,” Knight said. “Coach stays on me about [confidence]. As long as he has confidence in me, I have confidence.”
The teams opened the game firing from the get-go, exchanging the lead three times in the first four minutes of play. Lofton connected from the three-point range twice, while Reggie Lynch scored twice to counter Evansville’s trio of three pointers, giving ISU the 17-16 advantage.
The Purple Aces regained the lead back quickly on a 4-0 run to make the score 20-17, but a trey from Tony Wills tied the score at 20s with 11:32 left in the first period. UE took the lead right back however, before two consecutive dunks by John Jones tied the game at 26-26 a minute later. A taunting technical called on Jones’ second dunk however, would ignite the stands and trigger ISU head coach Muller to pull Jones.
“I have to watch it — [Jones] doesn’t do things like that,” Muller said. “He was certainly excited about the dunk, which we want him to be excited. I didn’t take John out because he got the technical, I took him out because he got a second foul.”
Baskets would continue teeter-tottering between the teams, but ISU would solidify the lead heading into the halftime break thanks to baskets coming from Knight, Jamaal Samuel, who connected from three-point range for the second time this season, Bobby Hunter, Lofton and Tony Wills.
The Redbirds maintained a single-digit lead throughout the first eight minutes of the second half, but the Aces would eventually cut the lead to two points, 54-52, with 11 minutes left in regulation. ISU would then extend the lead back out to 58-52 after a layup by Wills and a Hunter tip-in with just over eight minutes remaining in the second period.
Similar to the cyclic theme of the first half, baskets and leads continued to be exchanged when an Evansville three-pointer with 33 seconds on the clock gave the Aces the 70-67 lead. After UE threw the ball away on an in-bounds pass, ISU’s Kaza Keane captured the loose ball and found Knight who drained a shot-beyond-the-arc to tie the game at 70 with eight seconds left, leading the teams into overtime.
Each team put scores on the board to begin the overtime period, but a pair of Wills free throws and a Knight layup gave the ’Birds the 76-72 advantage with 2:47 left on the clock. UE connected on another trey to get within one point, but Lofton sank his fourth three-pointer of the night to put the Redbirds up 79-75.
Again, Evansville countered with a trey of its own, but was unable to regain the lead, ultimately leading to the 79-78 ISU victory.
“As a coach I always feel like we’re going to make enough plays to win,” Muller said. “I do want to give my players confidence, and when you have the momentum going into overtime like that it can make a difference but it doesn’t always. I do think the first basket in overtime — the layup by Daishon — was big, because that kept [the momentum] going.”
The Redbirds will pick up Valley play on the road this weekend as they head to Des Moines, Iowa, to take on Drake. Tipoff is slated for 7:05 p.m. Saturday.