Junior guard Matt Hein buries his face in his jersey after Illinois State's 78-62 loss against Drake in the second round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament March 8 at Enterprise Arena in St. Louis.

Disappointment and frustration are two of many words to describe Illinois State's 2018-19 season, but sometimes all that's needed to be said, isn't what's said at all.

Actions speak louder than words and for Illinois State, actions on the court spoke louder than the team's reasoning behind closed doors.

The Redbirds did what most expected to be done this time around at Arch Madness - skimming past Evansville only to lose to Drake in the quarterfinal of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

While most Redbird faithful and Valley fans sit back and pat themselves on the back for a rather easy prediction, a loss was bound to happen as no Thursday team has ever reached and won Arch Madness in MVC history.

But it wasn't supposed to be like this. 

The 'Birds were supposed to be feared throughout the Valley, but instead were only feared at Redbird Arena finishing 12-4 at home. Firm in its mediocrity, the Redbirds finished 17-16, 9-9 in the MVC this year as their record outwardly shows the patchiness and struggle experienced.

Ranked No. 2 in the MVC Preseason poll, Illinois State had every tool necessary to make this season special. 

A tight knit and talented senior core in Keyshawn Evans, Phil Fayne and former MVC Newcomer of the Year Milik Yarbrough all were poised to be elite forces within conference play.

Instead, they finished their careers with individual success and potency, rather than keeping the glue that stuck together throughout the season.

There's no one to blame and there's no one to point fingers at, it just didn't happen. From half-court buzzer-beating losses to routine weekly blowouts, we were all wrong and that's the story that will be written until tip-off next fall.

Looking ahead, Illinois State now faces new leadership in returners Zach Copeland, Rey Idowu, Matt Chastain, Josh Jefferson, Isaac Gassman and Matt Hein while newer faces in Dedric Boyd, Keith Fischer, Jaycee Hillsman and Taylor Bruninga look to see the court for the first time next season.

A new era now comes into fruition as this year’s senior-heavy roster departs with ISU head coach Dan Muller still trying to bring Redbird basketball to the heights in which he dreams of.

Whether you agree with his play style, his success and his failures, Muller isn't going anywhere. The fact of the matter is; he's signed through 2024 with a new contract extension penned in 2017. The university has faith in him to get ISU over the hump of a tournament championship and a NCAA berth. 

This is Muller’s program and although tensions and frustrations are at an all-time high, a sudden head coaching change will not fix the problem.

A head coach can only do so much for his guys on the court. He gives them the tools and knowledge pertinent for their success, yet this is the players' burden to bear.

They just didn't play up to their potential. No clear emergence of a leader, lack of focus and overall just consistent complacency has flushed this season into a spiral of unwanted tribulation.

Yet here we are, at the end of the road trying to figure out who and what to blame when the reality of it all is that ISU was simply outplayed all season long.

Yes, there were good times, but the bad times are what will be remembered this time around and sending off this group of senior players to a stained reputation in Arch Madness is the last thing Muller wanted.

I would've cried too. I would've sat there in front of hundreds of reporters, eager to record whatever I was going to say, basically apologizing for what I did and didn't do. I would've put it on me too, but that's just not the case.

ISU cannot look back anymore, as the program’s future is what will keep it pushing towards seeing glory in March.

The Redbirds just didn't play, regardless of how much talent was on that roster.

And at the end of the day, hard work beats talent when talent doesn't want to work hard. 

What more can you say?

JONATHAN BARLAS is Sports Editor for The Vidette. He can be reached at jgbarla@ilstu.edu. Follow him on Twitter @janveselybarlas

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