The Illinois State University men’s basketball team (6-14, 1-7 MVC) continued its downward spiral with another conference loss.
The Redbirds fell to the Southern Illinois University Salukis (11-10 5-3 MVC) by a score of 58-55, giving the Salukis their first victory at Redbird Arena since 2007.
Zach Copeland had 24 points on the day, shooting 9-13 from the field, and an impressive 5-7 from beyond the arc. The only other Redbird to score in the double-digits was Jaycee Hillsman who had 11 points.
The poor weather conditions did not scare away many of Redbird faithful, as the game had over 5,000 people in attendance to root on the ’Birds. Unfortunately, the narrative of this Missouri Valley Conference season stayed the same.
On a day where the ’Birds had one of their better performances of the year, picking up their first win after a six-game losing skid is something any fan would have wanted to see. Through 30 minutes of the game, the Redbirds looked to be on their way to victory, but once again fell apart in the key moments of the game.
Copeland and Hillsman were the only two bright spots for the team, as the rest of the Redbirds combined for a horrendous 9-33 from the field throughout the game.
“Definitely is difficult when guys don’t play well offensively. It’s difficult when you are missing open shots, a lot of your free throws. We got to have more consistent scoring from a couple guys,” ISU head coach Dan Muller said.
Scoring droughts and a tendency to turn the ball over are still a thorn in the side of the ’Birds. Averaging 14.0 turnovers and a habit to go four to five minutes without making a bucket has cost ISU several games this season.
“We just have these stretches of bad play that just kill us. Sometimes its turnovers, sometimes its defense, but that certainly was an opportunity missed,” Muller said.
The team had 17 turnovers against SIU, having all but three players commit one.
While the kinks are noticeably present for the ’Birds, they took some steps forward against the Salukis.
The defensive effort that was put on display by the Redbirds, holding the Salukis to a 24% shooting clip through the first half. As well as dominating on the boards, out rebounding SIU by six, and running away with six steals.
Holding SIU to 17 points through the first 20 minutes of play gives off the appearance that this young team is on the same page for the first time in a while. The issue is that a game cannot be won by only playing 20 minutes well.
Throughout the second half, SIU scored 39 points, closed the rebounding margin to two and harassed ISU for nine turnovers.
At one point in the second half, the Redbirds held a 10-point lead over the Salukis. The devastating struggles from all but two of ISU’s players began the downfall that was the Salukis’ comeback.
As SIU took a three-point lead within the final two minutes, many of those in attendance had lost hope and began heading for the exits.
Copeland gave them a reason to stay as he hit an off-balance three with 1:35 to go.
Zach Copeland with a big three-pointer, his fourth of the game, and #REDBIRDhoops trails 52-51 with 1:35 left in the contest.— Illinois State MBB (@Redbird_MBB) January 25, 2020
As SIU began to sneak away with a victory, freshman Marcus Domask missed two key free throws that could have put the game out of reach for the ’Birds.
Driving back down the court, Copeland scrambled for the final 10 seconds to heave an awkward shot from the corner with two Salukis pressing him, forcing a bad shot and an SIU win.
“Seems like it is something different every game. We have not come up with plays that you need to make at the end of the games to win,” Hillsman said. “We are most likely in it but defensive breakdowns kill us. These are just things you cannot do in a conference game.”