Through four Missouri Valley Conference games, Illinois State men's basketball sits in ninth place with a 1-3 conference record.
Here are some takeaways from the Redbirds' slow start to conference play:
The Redbirds are just 4-5 through their nine games that have been decided by six or less points this season. Three out of their four MVC games have been decided by six or fewer points and the Redbirds have dropped all three of those matchups.
"I think there's an odd familiarity when I look back on the film from each of those games. Some of them have sort of taken the same shape," ISU head coach Ryan Pedon said on ISU's struggles in close games. "It's not crazy to say, 'Could you be 3-1? Could you be 4-0? Could you be 0-4?' The answer on all those is yes. I think that's the reality of being in a really well-coached conference."
ISU would trail by double digits in the second half of each of its MVC losses. The Redbirds would bring the Illinois-Chicago and Northern Iowa games within two and three points, respectively, and would take the lead over Murray State in overtime.
However, the Redbirds seemed to falter once making those late surges. After taking a two-point lead over MSU, the Racers would then go on an 8-3 run to end the game. After coming within two against UIC, the Flames would close out the win with a 6-4 run. After bringing the deficit down to three against UNI, the Panthers would close out with an 8-5 run.
In each of these games, the Redbirds were able to give themselves a fighting chance down the stretch, but they would ultimately run out of gas. If they want to find a way to win these tight conference games down the stretch, they will need to fix their first-half issues so they are not always climbing back late.
Turnovers have been a hindrance to the Redbirds' offense through much of the season and that has not changed into conference play. Through four MVC games, ISU is averaging 17 turnovers per game while recording just 12.5 assists.
On the other hand, the Redbirds' opponents are averaging just 10 turnovers per game while averaging 12 assists.
"When you're struggling a little bit and in moments when you're frustrated you begin to press, and that can show itself in a variety of ways," Pedon said. "For us, a little bit of shot selection here the last two games, a little bit trying to do too much at times and a little bit just trusting what we're doing. Just continuing to be solid."
The Redbirds will have to find a way to limit those unforced errors such as turnovers if they want to find themselves ahead in those late game situations in which they have struggled in up to this point.
ISU thrived at the stripe through non-conference play and that has carried over into the The Valley.
On the season, the Redbirds are shooting 79.1% from the line with that number dropping slightly to 76.6% in conference play. Their opponents, however, have shot just 70.4% on the season and 69.1% in conference play.
The Redbirds have excelled at taking the ball into the paint, drawing contact and converting through the first 15 games of the season. If they can continue to do so, they will give themselves a fighting chance against any team in the MVC.
When a team hits a rough patch as ISU has over the last four games, it can often be difficult to find accountability within the staff and players. However, that has not been an issue in the slightest with Pedon's Redbirds.
"I think it's 100% the players. It's on us," redshirt junior Liam McChesney said on the team's struggles. "Coach [Pedon] kind of gives us everything we need. The coaching staff works so hard every single day. They put together what we need to win and it's really on us. The players have to take accountability and we have to get better."
Accountability like this seems to show growth in a roster that has five transfers averaging 20 or more minutes per game. It is bound to take time for a new-look program like ISU to mesh, but this looks to be a step in the right direction despite the Redbirds' recent struggles.
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