'WAKE UP!' Shouted Dan Muller, Illinois State University men’s basketball coach, near the five-minute mark of the first half as forward Harouna Sissoko had the ball stripped from his hands. Luckily, the Redbirds maintained that possession, but that is about all that went right against Valparaiso University on Saturday, losing 69-60.
Becoming quite consistent at inconsistent starts, the Redbirds never held a lead against Valparaiso. Muller mentioned that the 10-2 start is one of the two things he noticed, the other being 50-50 balls, both standing out to him postgame.
"There certainly is frustration with our inconsistent play. We did not have great days of practice; we did not do much. I was worried about our readiness to play the game. We got to grow up, and we need our starters, and certain bench guys to be more consistent,” Muller said.
“We need guys to understand every time they step on the court with another team, you have to be ready to compete and play together. We forgot those things specifically in the first half.”
Ending the first half on a 3:49 scoring drought, Josiah Strong led Illinois State University with seven points on 3-8 shooting. Shooting struggles were contagious for the men in red and white, as the team shot 33% from the field in the first half.
Having accounted for six points through eight minutes of play, a switch to full court pressure and zone defense briefly swayed the Crusaders’ momentum. Sloppiness eventually allowed Valpo to find holes, finishing the first half up 36-23.
Freshman guard Howard Fleming Jr. said that some of his teammates were sluggish ahead of game time, and when one member is lacking effort, it hurts the entire team being so young.
Perhaps after a pot of coffee at halftime, ISU came out re-energized and cut the Crusaders’ lead to six through the first couple of minutes. A new approach featured a more aggressive Dusan Mahorcic finding his shots in the paint.
A much better shooting percentage was found in the second half for the Redbirds, but it came too little too late. The Crusaders found success with Donovan Clay in the paint, totaling 20 points for the game.
As the half went on, Valpo's game plan saw more three-point misses, which allowed the Redbirds to start their comeback attempt. Leading that charge appeared to be sophomore guard DJ Horne, who had 19 points in the second half.
Competing with much more intensity for the latter 20 minutes, ISU cut Valpo's lead to five points, but was unable to shake its drowsy first half.
Horne was ISU's leading scorer with 19 points, while Mahorcic added 15 points. Each player's majority of points coming in the second half. Fleming grabbed t10 boards, but only had two points to pair with it.
When asked about what Valpo did in the first half to prevent ISU from scoring, Fleming. kept the blame in house.
"I doubt it was Valparaiso, I'd say we beat ourselves," Fleming said.
The Redbirds have less than 24 hours to recoup and rest for round two against the Crusaders, as tipoff is set for 5 p.m. on Sunday.