Jamaal Samuel gave the Redbirds the spark they needed off the bench to carry them through the first half, but a second-half team surge ultimately led the Illinois State men’s basketball team to a 76-65 Missouri Valley Conference victory over Northern Iowa at Redbird Arena last night.
“I just loved the way our guys played tonight,” ISU head coach Dan Muller said. “We’re playing with confidence and positive energy. A lot of different guys stepped up and made big plays on both ends throughout the night, especially in the second half. Jamaal Samuel stepped in and played his best game, Daishon [Knight] had a terrific second half and Bobby [Hunter] was solid the entire game. Everybody who played tonight was good and I just really like how my guys are playing right now.”
Samuel entered the game from the bench and led ISU through the first half with eight points and compiled a total of 10 points throughout the night, along with two blocks and one steal.
“Coach Muller just always tells me to be prepared and be ready to go in,” Samuel said. “We’re down to two bigs, so me and Reggie [Lynch] always have to get ourselves going. Coming off the bench you want to be strong, so I just kept that in mind and brought it to the floor.”
Hunter and Knight led ISU’s offense with 17 and 15 points, respectively, with a majority of their points coming in the second half.
Back-to-back three-pointers from Paris Lee and Hunter put the Redbirds on the board first, but UNI would score eight-straight points, going on a 16-2 run in the opening minutes to secure the lead for the rest of the first half of the contest.
In the second half however, ISU came out energized as Hunter capitalized on a steal for a quick two points. UNI countered, however, with a basket of its own to make it 39-33 in favor of the Panthers.
A more foul-plagued half for both teams, Knight would shoot 100 percent from the bonus line (6-for-6) while Hunter would go 4-for-4 on the night.
At 12:53 a Panther turnover resulted in a Knight dunk to ignite the crowd and give the Redbirds the permanent lead at 45-41.
“I didn’t even know my legs were going to allow me to do that,” Knight said. “I don’t know how I got up there, but it got the crowd going and I’m glad that happened.”
With four minutes left in the contest the Panthers closed the gap to 62-56, but it would not be enough. Hunter, Tony Wills, and Reggie Lynch would seal the deal with buckets in the final minutes of the game, giving ISU the 76-65 MVC triumph.
The ’Birds will hit the hardwood again at 3:05 p.m. on Sunday as they travel to Loyola for a MVC contest.