|Braves surrender to ‘Birds|
|Written by Scott Gleeson Daily Vidette Sports Editor|
|Thursday, 27 January 2011 10:31|
Perhaps it was a rivalry game that both teams needed.
It may have been two basement Missouri Valley Conference teams battling for their first and second conference wins, but rivals Illinois State and Bradley came to life in the first installment of the “War on 74.”
In a storyline scripted with a massive comeback, multiple technical fouls and a flurry of last-second heroics, the Redbirds rallied from a double-digit deficit to escape their rivals, 79-78, in an overtime thriller at Carver Arena in Peoria, Ill., before a crowd of 10,592.
“I can’t imagine that there’s been too many more exciting games [in the ISU-Bradley rivalry],” ISU head coach Tim Jankovich said. “It was incredible. I cannot say enough about the heart of our team tonight.”
The ‘Birds trailed the Braves throughout most of the game’s entirety but with 13 seconds left, a pair of Jon Ekey free throws gave ISU its first lead of the game at 63-62.
The Braves countered, though, to force overtime.
After Jackie Carmichael split two free throws, Bradley’s Will Egolf was fouled and iced two free throws to knot the score at 65-all with one second left.
“We didn’t panic at all,” said Carmichael, who finished with a monstrous 24 points and 17 rebounds to pace ISU. “We were mentally sound in those last couple minutes in regulation. I think we just played some of our best basketball right then.”
Egolf’s game-tying free throws came after a shot clock malfunction that erased what looked to be a game-winning defensive stop.
“I felt like we had the game won in regulation,” Jankovich said. “That was a tough pill to swallow.
In overtime, senior Austin Hill awoke from his coma-like performance in regulation by scoring 10 of ISU’s 14 points in the extra period. However, Bradley’s Andrew Warren had the hotter hand, scoring 11 of the Braves’ 13 overtime points. Hill finished with 12, while Warren scored 25.
It was a see-saw battle for much of overtime as both teams traded blows.
“We just could not put them away,” Jankovich said. “I thought that we had done a good job on [Warren] and then he decides that he’s going to hit three of the toughest shots of the night. I was amazed, just another dagger every time.”
Following a made fade-away three-pointer from Warren that put Bradley up 78-77, Hill had the ball in his hands with 16 seconds remaining. The senior guard drew a foul with three seconds left and found himself at the charity stripe with the game on the line.
“I had to take us home. That’s all that was going through my head, it’s all I kept saying,” Hill said. “I kept repeating to myself, ‘just take us home. No excuses.’ I didn’t want to lose.”
Hill, the standout in last season’s Redbird win at Carver Arena (pouring in 14 points), made both free throws and after a defensive stop, the ‘Birds walked off the court victorious.
Sophomore John Wilkins buried the most decisive shot of the night with a three-pointer deadeye in the right corner with 38 seconds remaining to give ISU a 61-60 edge.
In a game that seemed “like the whole night was a comeback” according to Jankovich, it was the first-half comeback that helped keep the ‘Birds at bay. Trailing 23-8 at the 11:42 minute mark of the first half, ISU dug itself out of a huge hole.
Sparked by a couple of Blake Mishler buckets, the Redbirds fought back to slice the deficit to 32-27 at halftime.
“If you would have told me at the 10-minute mark that we’d only be down five [at halftime], I would have bet the house and the car that that wasn’t going to be the case. Give [Mishler] an awful lot of credit for that.”
The ‘Birds (10-11, 2-8 MVC) are owners of two straight conference wins while the Braves (6-15, 0-10 MVC) remain winless in league play.
Anthony Cousin (14 points), Wilkins (11 points), Mishler (eight points) and Ekey (eight points) rounded out the Redbird scorers.
The victory generated some much-needed momentum for the ‘Birds.
“This [win] can only help us,” Jankovich said. “We needed some positive energy, we needed some confidence…This environment will make anybody grow up. Our whole team had to grow up after the first 10 minutes. It might have been the best thing that happened to us.”
ISU meets Drake Sunday at Redbird Arena for a 2:05 p.m. tipoff.