Saturday’s contest brought a team victory for the Illinois State men’s basketball team (12-10, 5-5 MVC) over Drake (12-10, 3-7 MVC) as well as individual victories for Nick Zeisloft and Bobby Hunter, who exhibited career-high performances, scoring 15 and 19 points, respectively.
The Redbirds’ win over Drake capped off a season-sweep for them over the Bulldogs and bumped ISU’s home record to 8-3 this year.
Offensively, Illinois State made 51 percent of its shots from the floor, including 12-of-23 from beyond-the-arc. The ’Birds had 11 assists on 24 baskets, forced 14 Drake turnovers and tied their season high for blocks with eight.
“I thought Bobby Hunter and Nick Zeisloft came out and gave us unbelievable energy and confidence, Nick with the shooting and his play, but Bobby with his overall, absolute emotional passion and energy and he made shots which always helps,” ISU head coach Dan Muller said.
Drake lagged behind ISU offensively, shooting only 34 percent with a 5-of-21 effort from beyond-the-arc.
Both teams came out of the gate strong with five lead changes in the first five minutes. Drake went on a 4-0 run, which was answered by a Jamaal Samuel layup, assisted by Daishon Knight.
Drake and ISU exchanged baskets continually, with Lynch and Hunter eventually stretching ISU’s lead out to 12-9.
After a media time out, Drake tied the game at 12 until Reggie Lynch sank a layup to pull Illinois State ahead for the rest of the game.
During the next play, Lynch blocked Drake’s Seth VanDeest, setting up Hunter for a four-point play. Lynch’s block was the 53rd of his freshman season, securing his first-place position for most blocks by a freshman in Illinois State history.
“I’m not surprised,” Muller said. “[Lynch] was terrific in the first half.”
Bulldog Jordan Daniels scored a three-point basket, which was countered by an ISU 7-0 run with a pair of layups by Lynch and a shot beyond-the-arc from Zeisloft.
Drake responded with an 8-2 run of their own, closing the gap to 34-29 with 3:21 left in the first half. Zeisloft sank a three before ISU headed into the locker room with the lead, 43-35.
ISU came out strong in the second half with a 6-0 run, topped off by a Zeisloft three.
Five minutes into the half, Drake finally made it onto the board thanks to a free throw by Trevor Berkeley at the 14:30 mark.
Zeisloft and Zach Lofton each added to the Redbirds’ lead with three-point shots, upping the score 52-37. Zeisloft’s shot earned him his 15th point of the game and solidified his career-high performance.
Drake’s first field goal of the second half came at the 10:37 mark thanks to Berkeley. After a three-point basket by Drake’s Blake Danielak, the Redbirds went on an 11-3 run, including a trey by Paris Lee.
An Illinois State 13-3 run was broken by Drake’s Aaron Hawley on a 10-footer. Knight answered with a shot beyond-the-arc, bringing the score up to 72-51 with five minutes left in the game.
The Redbirds finally claimed the victory, outscoring Drake, 75-57.
“We played with confidence, we played with passion, led by our two captains and followed up by everybody,” Muller said.
Illinois State continues its home stand on Wednesday, Feb. 5, when the Redbirds host Northern Iowa. Tip-off is set for 7:05 p.m. at Redbird Arena.