Illinois State men's basketball's Howard Fleming II driving to the hoop. 

Despite being down by nine with four minutes left, Illinois State men’s basketball did not lose its confidence in its 79-74 win over Missouri State to open Missouri Valley Conference play Wednesday at Redbird Arena.

Within a minute, the Redbirds cut the deficit down to three to force the third overtime game of the season.

“We have been through some adversity,” senior Josiah Strong said on the comeback. “We have some experience [in overtime]. We know we have weapons all over the floor. We trust each other and have been building that bond.”

Once in overtime, junior Antonio Reeves found his stroke as he scored ISU’s first seven points in overtime. Reeves bounced back from a 1-for-5 start to finish the game with 22 points.

“Just letting the game come to me opened me up,” Reeves said on his improvements. “They were face guarding me at first but I trusted my teammates to make plays and stay in the flow of the game. I stayed in the flow.”

Early on, MSU had built up a comfortable 28-21 lead with four minutes left in the first half. The Bears were shooting well, starting 11-of-25. ISU struggled from field goal range starting 6-of-13 as a team.

Strong made the same number of shots as the rest of the Redbirds combined during this period. Strong was 3-of-5 with eight points while the rest of ISU was 3-of-13 with six points from the field.

Despite struggling from the field, ISU was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line.

Coming out of a media timeout at the four-minute mark, ISU was down by 10. The Redbirds flipped the switch going on an 11-0 run to briefly take the lead before heading into halftime down 34-32.

That stretch also saw ISU hit three straight three-point attempts.

Both teams struggled to find an offensive rhythm in the early goings of the second half. ISU briefly took a lead, but MSU quickly took it back.

The Redbirds matched up well with the Bears with some of the best defense of the season on display.

"I feel like as a unit it was one of our best defensive games," ISU's Sy Chatman said on the defensive effort. "We played two full halves of defense. The crowd gave us good energy in overtime."

The Bears got hot around the 10-minute mark to go on a 6-0 run to take an eight-point lead.

After a media timeout, the Redbirds looked as if they could get hot offensively making six quick points. However, they could not chip away at the lead as the Bears out-played them making 5-of-7 to extend their lead to 62-53.

On the verge of being down double digits with four minutes left, ISU head coach Dan Muller called a timeout looking to regroup his team. Muller gave a key message to his team during that timeout.

“I just said we were fine,” Muller said. “We have been there before we have to get stops and be aggressive. You could see it in their eyes. It went from nine to three in less than and a minute it helped us win the game and gave us the confidence.”

Out of the timeout, the Redbirds came out with new energy. A two-handed slam from Ryan Schmitt and a three-pointer from Kendall Lewis quickly put the game within four points (62-58).

This promoted a timeout from MSU head coach Dana Ford.

ISU kept surging though with three-pointers from Lewis and Strong to tie up the game at 64 and would eventually send the game into overtime.

A pair of blocks from Lewis and Chatman was huge in getting the ball back into the hands of Strong. With the game in overtime, Reeves took control to secure the 79-74 win.

“Just moving the ball, kick-outs, threes, they were opening up for us,” Reeves said on what got him going late.

“Me driving got us going as well. I was getting down. Honestly, he was a lot more physical than I expected. It was something I had to get used to and adjust to that.”

MSU’s two-headed monster of Gaige Prim and Isiaih Mosley was kept in check for the Redbirds. Mosley was limited to 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting while turning the ball over six times.

Prim did finish with 27 points but added six turnovers as well.

“It was a physical game. I thought fatigue probably led to that,” Muller said on the pair’s six turnover game.

“They played heavy minutes, and when Prime plays heavy minutes, it is physical the whole time. Just wearing both of them down led to some turnovers.”

Reeves led the way for the Redbirds with 22 points. Strong trailed him with 21 points.

The win moved the Redbirds back to .500 on the season (4-4).

JAKE SERMERSHEIM is a Sports Editor for The Vidette. He can be contacted at vidette_jrserme@ilstu.edu. Follow Sermersheim on Twitter at @JakeSermersheim  

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