It took the final game of the season for the Illinois State University men’s basketball team to get its first road win of the season Feb. 29.
A career night from freshman point guard DJ Horne led the Redbirds to a 71-60 win over the Evansville Aces. Horne led the Redbirds in points (24) and tied for the lead in rebounds (seven).
“A good night would be an understatement. That was a freshman that put the team on his back,” ISU head coach Dan Muller said. “His pull-up was on point. He saved his best for last.”
Winning their first road game of the season did not come with a few roadblocks first. In the morning Feb. 29 redshirt junior Keith Fisher III was deemed ill with what Muller described as a diagnosed illness.
“Keith has been our best player the last two games. Never would I have thought that I would wake up to him saying that he could not play,” Muller said. “When you find that out right before the game it can be difficult.”
With Fisher out the Redbirds would be down their leading rebounder. But a pair of Redbirds stepped up in Matt Chastain and DJ Horne tied with seven rebounds apiece.
“We knew that coming in rebounding would be a struggle without him,” Horne said. “But we knew if we could win rebounding we would win today.”
Chastain’s seven rebounds were a part of a solid day for the redshirt junior in his first appearance since requiring surgery on his knee. Chastain added five points in 23 minutes to his game leading rebounding. Chastain played an important role nailing a three-pointer with 4:27 left with the Aces surging.
“That three was the biggest thing he did. A huge shot from a guy who has been through a lot,” Muller said. “He played really good minutes.”
Leading up to that three-pointer the Aces had been chipping away at an ISU lead that at one time had been in double digits. ISU opened with a strong zone defense that shut down the Aces’ offense.
But in the second half, the Aces found their solution and were able to tie the game at 50 thanks to a strong attack.
“What brought them back was penetrating, they would penetrate and kick and get threes,” Muller said. “Our zone was very good for 20 minutes or so but fell apart around then.”
Throughout the season the Redbirds struggled to maintain leads.
“We responded really well which we have not seen all the time this season which is great,” Muller said. “To see them respond on the road and make solid plays and continue to make plays.”
A big part of the Redbirds’ comeback was a solid closing minute play from Horne. The freshman nailed a pair of free throws to cap off a career night. Horne finished the game a perfect 8-of-8 from the charity stripe.
“Throughout the game, I thought I saw the opportunity to drive to the basket more,” Horne said. “Muller joked that I don’t shoot free throws, so I made it an emphasis to draw some fouls.”
With the win, the Redbirds finish the regular season with a 10-20 record (5-13 in conference).
With the No. 9 seed locked up, the Redbirds will be back in action on March 5 against the No. 8 seed that will be determined later tonight.