The Illinois State University men’s basketball team (8-16, 3-9 MVC) was able to disrupt the Indiana State Sycamores’ (14-9, 7-5 MVC) winning ways, defeating them 74-67 at Redbird Arena.
On a night that saw a stunning 53 fouls called, the free throw line was where the game was eventually won. The Redbirds went to the line 33 times, making 26 of their attempts, not allowing for a comeback attempt from the Sycamores.
The Redbirds were led by Jaycee Hillsman, who posted his career-high 23 points and nine rebounds in the victory. Zach Copeland followed up with 20 points against the Sycamores, even after beginning the game 0-7.
Copeland’s rough shooting night improved in the later stages of the game, ending the night on 5-of-13 shooting, but he was able to go 9-9 on his free throws late finishing with 20 points. Copeland had this to say after the game on what adjustments he had to make throughout the game.
“Driving to the basket, trying to make contact. Just wasn’t falling today, it happens, just keep shooting,” Copeland said.
Copeland was not the only struggling Redbird, as the team as a whole shot 22-51 from the field, and an even worse 4-of-20 from beyond the arc. The only Redbird who shot well from the field was Hillsman, who had a perfect 4-4, finishing with 14 points in the first half alone. Hitting four of his five free throws, as well as two three pointers.
Hillsman finished the game shooting 5-8 in field goals, as well as 11-14 from the line.
“He’s (Hillsman) becoming that consistent second scoring guy. He made some threes, but his ability to get fouled, he got fouled 11 times and he is one of our best free throw shooters. He was great on both ends.”
The sloppy play early in the first half was cleaned up quickly by the Redbirds as the defensive presence was affecting the Sycamores. Abdou Ndiaye quickly picked up two blocks, putting the paint on lockdown.
“Abdou did a great job defensively and frustrated their bigs early with his shot-blocking,” ISU head coach Dan Muller said.
The Sycamores’ poor play followed them through 12 minutes of the first half, as they we finally able to eclipse 10 points in the game up to that point. Overshadowing the Redbirds’ collapse, as they could not take advantage of the disastrous play of the Sycamores.
The Redbirds’ largest lead of the half reached 11 points, but the Sycamores could not build any momentum to contend.
The Redbirds came out hot in the second half hitting all their shots but began to fall apart as foul trouble became a concern. One individual that saw his night end early was Ndiaye, who fouled out of the game playing just 12 minutes for the Redbirds. Five other players had three or more fouls in the game as well, as the whistles were nonstop in tonight’s action.
The will not quit attitude from Indiana State was evident from the Sycamores, as through the six remaining minutes of the second half, the Sycamores began intentional fouling down 13 points.
The plan was not successful by any means, only cutting the Redbird lead to 10 points for a time being. As the Redbirds were able to hold onto their lead, they finished the game with a 74-67 victory.
A smile was planted on Muller’s face as he greeted the media in the post-game press conference, having this to say.
“Great win against a really good team. I love how we competed and bounced back; it was great. I thought everybody went into the game and played with the right mindset,” Muller said.
Hillsman was also elated after the game, achieving his career-high and getting the win, he was the happiest he’s been in a while.
“This win is very pivotal, especially at this point in the season. It’s good to have a win and start building toward being a better team and being the best team we can be, especially towards March,” Hillsman said.
“That’s what we are focused on, just continuing to get better every day,” he continued. “I applaud this team because they continue to come in and work every single day, regardless of the outcome of the game we continue to work.”
The Redbirds will be back in action 7 p.m. Wednesday as they travel to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to take on University of Northern Iowa for the second time this season, after upsetting the Panthers earlier this season.