Saturday’s Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball matchup between Illinois State and Drake in Des Moines, Iowa, marked another victory for the Redbirds, extending their winning streak to eight and their MVC record to 4-2 (11-7 overall). ISU head coach Dan Muller chalked up a majority of the team’s success to its outstanding defense.
“We made some big plays. Really, it happened with the defensive end,” Muller told WJBC radio. “We changed our defense up a couple of times and I really thought that helped. We really guarded them well, we were alert to their shooters, we played it how we practiced it and we watched the film and talked about the adjustments we had to make and about doing our jobs better … [Drake is] hard to guard, and we guarded the heck out of them. That was a heck of a performance by our team.”
Reggie Lynch matched a career high in points (14), rebounds (7) and blocks (4) to lift the Redbirds to a 77-63 conference win.
“[This win] is very big. We knew we had to get this one. We didn’t get the win against Missouri State which was another big-lead game and then they came back, so we didn’t want to repeat that,” Lynch told WJBC radio. “We’re using old mistakes to correct them [and prevent new ones].”
Daishon Knight led ISU offensively with 17 points and tallied seven rebounds, four assists and two steals, while Nick Zeisloft matched a career-high effort beyond-the-arc netting 4-of-5 threes. The Redbirds shot 48.1 percent from the field and out-rebounded Drake, 38-23.
“That’s two games in a row that we’ve had double digit offensive rebounding,” Muller said. “We have emphasized it, we’ve talked about it … [Saturday’s game] was big for us. [Rebounding] helped our offense … Guys made good plays.”
The Redbirds entered the game firing, going on a 13-3 run, forcing five turnovers that resulted in eight ISU points during the opening stretch. Two of Zeisloft’s treys came in the first period, helping to build ISU’s early 10-point lead. Drake would pull within 20-13, but the Redbirds stretched out their lead to double digits for the remainder of the first half.
“I think on both ends, that was the best half of basketball we’ve played,” Muller said. “We had two good days of practice, we focused on our defense, we’re learning now, we’re getting better as players … Very satisfying.”
The tables turned temporarily in the second half, as Drake opened with a 7-2 run. The Bulldogs got as close as 53-47, but the Redbirds responded and built their lead back out to double digits for the remainder of the game.
“We knew that we’ve had a few games where we’ve been up by a lot and some teams have come back, and we knew we just couldn’t let that happen again,” Lynch said. “We saw signs that they were making a run and our coach just pulled us in together and made sure that we knew we couldn’t let that happen and that we knew what we had to do and we stopped them.”
ISU returns to Redbird Arena at 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday as it hosts No. 5 Wichita State. Wichita State will step on Doug Collins court as the highest-ranked team to ever play in Redbird Arena.