After falling to Southern Illinois in the final seconds of Saturday night’s sold-out game in Carbondale, the Illinois State men’s basketball team secured the No. 5 seed in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, which will begin at the end of this week in St. Louis.
“Southern Illinois played extremely well. They play great at home,” ISU head coach Dan Muller told WJBC radio. “We just couldn’t get them. We didn’t fight hard enough on the boards. It certainly cost us, but we played tough. In every other category, guys fought hard — made shots, made good plays, fought back from deficits to take the lead … this one hurts.”
Saturday night’s matchup featured 11 lead changes and led both ISU and SIU to a 9-9 record in The Valley, tying the teams in a three-way tie with Missouri State for fourth place in the final MVC standings. The three-way tie was broken through non-conference strength of schedule (NCSS).
Illinois State will take on Missouri State in a No. 4 versus No. 5 battle on Friday at 2:35 p.m. at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
“We’ve got to make some adjustments and get our minds in the right place to just go down and play to win and play free and loose … and have a lot of fun hopefully,” Muller said. “This is obviously the first experience for most of my team with Arch Madness, and it’s a lot of great memories if you go down there and do some special things.”
Daishon Knight led three other Redbirds in double-digit scoring, amassing 15 points, five rebounds and two steals. Bobby Hunter compiled 13 points, followed by Zach Lofton (11) and Reggie Lynch (10).
The contest between ISU and SIU was tight througout. ISU went on a 10-2 run from 16:45 to 15:12 to take the 15-7 lead on a Nick Zeisloft 3-pointer, but the Salukis would take a three-point advantage shortly thereafter. The lead continued to teeter-totter throughout the first half.
With the game tied, Zach Lofton netted a trey to secure the Redbird lead, 36-33, at halftime.
Both teams came out firing after the break as the first 13 minutes of the second period saw five ties and seven lead changes before SIU went on a 9-2 run to take the 61-54 lead. But ISU answered with an 11-2 run to regain the two-point lead, 65-63, with 29 seconds left to play. However, SIU’s Tyler Smithpeters would net a trey in the final 10 seconds of the contest to inch the Salukis past the Redbirds, securing the SIU win, 66-65.
With the regular season now complete, the Redbirds are preparing all week for Friday’s MVC Tournament game against Missouri State.