After ending their seven-game losing streak against Evansville on Wednesday, the Illinois State University men’s basketball team (7-15, 2-8 MVC) is back in the loss column with a loss to the Valparaiso Crusaders (12-11, 5-5 MVC) 80-70.
Keith Fisher III was hot from the start for the Redbirds, having double-digit points through the first 10 minutes of the game. Fisher finished with 19 points, but a foul-troubled ISU team was the downfall for the Redbirds. Totaling 27 fouls in the game, including a technical foul on Jaycee Hillsman, hurt the Redbirds’ chances in this one.
When addressing the foul trouble that the ’Birds displayed in the game, head coach Dan Muller knows his team just needs to play smarter.
“We have to have a couple more guys we can count on to play,” Muller said. “We need our depth to be more consistent.”
Another player who was able to heat up for the Redbirds was DJ Horne, who finished with 16 points on 5-11 shooting. Horne was able to step up in the second half as Fisher scored his last points at the 16:14 mark of the second half.
“He’s really good, he’s grown leaps and bounds mentally [with] being able to handle pressure and being able to handle coaching and adversity. We want him to be aggressive, and he’s just going to keep getting better,” Muller said when addressing the play of Horne throughout the season.
With the fast-paced style that Valparaiso flashes, the Redbirds could only hope to keep up with the pace and outwork the Crusaders at their own game. Early on, that was the case as the Redbirds held the Crusaders scoreless through the first four minutes of the contest.
Abdou Ndiaye got his first start of the season against Valpo. The big man got to work early for the Redbirds, allowing no easy buckets in the paint and racking up two blocks in the first six minutes.
While Fisher was being a relentless scorer, the rest of the Redbird team struggled to keep up with the game’s intensity. Fisher had nine of the team’s 10 points through eight minutes of the first half.
Without help, the Crusaders began building their lead on ISU, maintaining a six-point lead all the way to halftime. ISU shot 30% from the field in the first half, only hitting three shots from beyond the arc.
The Redbirds caught fire heading into the second half, as they matched the number of threes made in the first half within the first three minutes. Outscoring Valpo 13-7 through the first four minutes of the second half had many thinking the Redbirds may be running away with the game.
The only thing in the way of that outcome was the Redbirds’ offensive struggles that continued into the second half. Key turnovers allowed for easy layups that saw Valparaiso go on an 11-point run to stretch its lead to 52-43 with just over 10 minutes left.
The deficit proved to be too large for the Redbirds to come back, allowing the Crusaders to coast to an 80-70 victory.
The second half lapses have been something that have been persistent in several Redbird games this season, and many of the lapses have been the primary reason for most if not all the losses this team has sustained.
Winning on the road has proven to be an uphill task in the Valley, and as the Redbirds now sit 0-4 on the road in conference play and 0-7 total, any hopes of a turnaround are beginning to fade to dust.
With eight games remaining, the ’Birds at best can finish 15-15 overall, but could take a winning record in conference play to Arch Madness at 10-8. A rather large turn of events needs to take place for any of this to happen, but the possibility remains.