Illinois State University men’s basketball team’s Sunday afternoon game against Indiana State University looked out of hand at the 4:00 minute mark in the second half, as the Sycamores just went on a 13-2 run to extend their lead by 16 points.
Instead, Illinois State charged back to bring the game close in the final minute. The Redbirds hung tough against the Sycamores, but early scoring runs were too much to overcome during this weekend sweep. Ranking as the best free throw shooting team in the Missouri Valley Conference, Indiana State stayed calm and collected as they hit their free throws to close the game, 74-68.
Muller summed it up with five words before diving deeper into what went wrong for his team throughout Sunday's contest.
"Disappointing game, credit Indiana State," Muller said.
"We did a better job in some areas, rebounding and fouling. Still turned the ball over. We had some guys that weren’t ready to play at the level we need to win games. Really excited with how our bench responded. Our young team, got to have everybody on game day, and today we had some guys have some tough days.”
Through the first eight minutes of the game, Dusan Mahorcic and Dedric Boyd were the only two Redbirds who were able to produce a scoring output. Antonio Reeves jumped in on the fun, adding 10 points to his stat line by halftime.
Scoring droughts accompanied Illinois State’s troubles at the start of both halves, allowing the Sycamores to build leads that became difficult to come back from. The Redbirds regained the lead by one after an and-one by Reeves with 3:34 to go in the first half but fell behind again by four before halftime.
Post-game, Boyd mentioned that some of his teammates appeared sleepy and were yawning during warmups, possibly resulting in the sluggish start by the Redbirds. Appearing both mentally and physically drained after surging the Redbirds to an almost come-from-behind win, Boyd said confidence has dwindled for Illinois State, saying it's only at '60%.'
Boyd led the Redbirds with 19 points, while Reeves chipped in 14 points. Boyd was viewed as one of the few bright spots seen in the game, and Muller calls him very valuable to the team because he knows what to expect from him.
Free throw struggles plagued the team as it has all season. Shooting an abysmal 3-9 through the first quarter, ISU finished 11-20, having a better second half.
"If we make our free throws in the first half, you never know. You're feeling better, you go in with a lead, it is impacting the game. It is having a dramatic on our chances to win," Muller said.
Bringing up an example of the Redbirds first game against Evansville, where poor free throw shooting cost them a chance at defeating the Purple Aces.
Inconsistencies have been a sore spot all year for ISU, and that was evident in ISU's starting lineup against the Sycamores. Combining for 39 points, Boyd and Howard Fleming Jr. played the role of energizer off the bench, scoring 29 together in the loss.
The Redbirds will only have three days to recoup from back-to-back losses, as Bradley makes the trek down I-74 to take on ISU Wednesday. The game is set to start at 8 p.m. at Redbird Arena and can be seen live on Marquee Sports Network.