SPRINGFIELD, MO. -- Missouri State shot 47.1 percent from the field, but a missed pair of late free throws and 3-pointers was the difference Illinois State needed to come out with a huge win Wednesday evening at JQH Arena.
The Redbirds topped Missouri State, 67-66, improving to 22-5, 14-1 Missouri Valley Conference, behind a strong effort from ISU's seniors and an early return from MiKyle McIntosh (torn meniscus).
"The goal on defense is to force a turnover or make them take an incredibly tough shot," said ISU coach Dan Muller whose team is still tied in first place with Wichita State atop the Valley. "Whether they make or miss you can't control that."
Missouri State shot lights out for a majority of the evening but the Bears couldn't convert when it mattered most. Down one with seven seconds left, Obediah Church missed a pair of free throws.
ISU's DJ Clayton gifted the Bears with another opportunity after the junior forward was intentionally fouled on the following possession but missed the front end of a one-and-one.
The last six seconds were a blur.
Church grabbed the rebound off Clayton's miss and dished it to Jarrid Rhodes who made an outlet pass to Dequon Miller for a last second 3-pointer, but his shot was too strong and hit the back end of the rim as time expired. Miller, who tallied 14 points and a game-high 39 minutes, had another opportunity to tie the game with a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left, but missed.
"I'm 100 percent sure we had about 8 to 10 breakdowns that were uncharacteristic of us and disappointing," Muller said. "We've got to get (that) fixed."
ISU's largest lead was nine at the 7:53 mark of the first half, but Missouri State closed the half on a 16-4 run. The Redbirds trailed, 33-29, at halftime.
The second half was a gut wrenching, back-and-forth slobber knocker Illinois State was able to eventually escape.
Seniors Paris Lee, Tony Wills and Deontae Hawkins combined for 40 points. Hawkins led all scorers with 19. McIntosh added nine points in 22 minutes off the bench in his first appearance since tearing his meniscus less than a month ago.
"We don't win that game without MiKyle," Muller said. "We of course were not going to rush him or play him, but he progressed great with his rehab. He was obviously ready to go. He's not ready to play 30 minutes yet, I want it to be around 15 or 20 and he'll continue to get healthy. I'm so proud of him the way he competed without worrying."
McIntosh said he wasn't expecting to come back until Sunday against Loyola but as time went on he "felt better and quicker." McIntosh added he could've played if needed during last Saturday's game against Bradley.
"It felt good to be out (there)," McIntosh said. "I tried to stay calm and keep doing what I always do. I didn't think my shots were going to go in that great but I'm pretty happy."
DJ Clayton chipped in 12 points and three rebounds for the Redbirds. ISU shot 45.8 percent (27-of-59) from the field and 37.5 percent (9-of-24) from three.
Missouri State outrebounded the Redbirds 31-30. ISU committed eight turnovers compared to the Bears' 12.
The Redbirds host Loyola Chicago (17-11, 7-8 MVC) at 3 p.m. Sunday. The Redbirds defeated the Ramblers, 81-59, during the teams' first meeting on New Years Day in Chicago. The game will air on WZND FM 103.3 at 3 p.m. Sunday.