NORMAL, Ill. — Entering Wednesday night’s full schedule, three teams were a perfect 2-0 in Missouri Valley Conference play.
Two of them faced off at Redbird Arena.
In a matchup that gave fans a taste of Arch Madness, Missouri State went cold at the wrong time, scoring just 4 points in the final 3:40, and was defeated, 74-71. Jarrid Rhodes led the way with 19 points.
“They were really good defensively,” said Missouri State head coach Paul Lusk. “I give them a lot of credit, they are good defensively. But, we had some opportunities in overtime. We didn’t capitalize.”
Both teams came out of the gates scoring; a total of 20 points were scored before the first media timeout.
A triple by Paris Lee, his second in the opening minutes, pushed the Redbirds ahead, 15-8. Daouda Ndiaye’s only point supplied a game-high nine-point lead at the 11:59-mark in the first half.
Although Missouri State’s offense was stagnant during an eight-minute segment, the Bears eventually broke out of their slump.
Spurred by two points from Alize Johnson, Missouri State went on a 10-0 run. Back-to-back triples by Jarrid Rhodes and Dequon Miller continued the offense while a layup by Jordan Martin capped it off and provided a 24-23 edge.
The Bears, despite seven made Illinois State free throws, kept an advantage going into halftime, 34-32.
As the second half opened, Missouri State and Illinois State could not miss coming out of the break. The teams, upping the ante, combined for 30 points in the first five minutes. At the same time, the Redbirds knotted the score at 48.
For the majority of the half, the two squads traded baskets. Or, that was until five of Deontae Hawkins‘ 20 points propelled the Redbirds to a two-possession lead with 9:40 left in regulation. The two offenses appeared unstoppable.
Then, out of nowhere, offensive lulls affected both teams. In fact, for nearly five minutes, neither team scored a single point.
Thankfully, Missouri State’s Rhodes broke the drought, pulling the Bears within two. Moments later, back-to-back triples, one from Chris Kendrix and another by Rhodes, provided the first lead since 11:18 remaining in the second half.
Four unanswered by Illinois State seized a two-point advantage, 64-62.
Following a Kendrix turnover and missed jumper by Miller, Lusk’s crew had one last chance to take the lead or force overtime.
Rhodes answered the call.
Driving left, the junior swished a fadeaway above the elbow, tying the score.
We were heading to overtime.
Despite Rhodes opening up the five minutes with a three-pointer, seven unanswered Illinois State points put the Redbirds up four with a minute left. All Illinois State had to do was make free throws and they would win the game. The task turned out to be easier said than done.
“I was shooting them regular,” said Illinois State’s MiKyle McIntosh, who missed five free throws in the final minute. “They were going in and out, so it was getting me frustrated. I think, towards the end, I was kinda thinking too much.”
By making just 3-of-10 free throw attempts in the final minute, the Redbirds left the door open for the Bears to again force an extra period.
Ryan Kreklow, who made three triples starting for Ronnie Rousseau III, air balled a game-winning attempt at the horn. The sophomore was trying to draw a foul as Illinois State looked to send him to the free throw line.
A red sea of 4,107 erupted.
Illinois State’s “Big Three” of MiKyle McIntosh, Deontae Hawkins, and Paris Lee combined for a total of 52 points and 23 rebounds. McIntosh, who made a career-high 10 free throws, scored a season-high 21 points on the night while Hawkins posted 20.
Even with Missouri State’s Dequon Miller neutralizing him, Paris Lee recorded his second double-double of the season. Unlike his first, rebounds was the category that complemented his 11 points.
“We were boxing out for him [while] he was running in there getting the rebounds,” said McIntosh of Paris Lee’s 10-rebound evening.
In total, the Redbirds shot 34 free throws, as opposed to 7 by Missouri State. Moreover, 23 of Illinois State’s 74 points came from the charity stripe.
“Overall, they just killed us getting to the foul line,” Lusk said.
After a 1-of-4 start, Jarrid Rhodes had his best game in a Bears’ uniform. The JUCO transfer scored 16 of his 19 in the 2nd half and overtime. The junior appears to be finding his groove in Division I basketball and is averaging 12 points per game in his past three.
“There was no pressure out there,” said Rhodes. “Guys would just see me — Dequon Miller, Ryan Kreklow. I just felt really comfortable out there on both ends.”
Outside of Rhodes, only Ryan Kreklow ended up in double-digits. He had 11 points.
Following a 30-point, 15-rebound performance, Alize Johnson was contained to 7 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes.
“The guys that were out — they were doing a nice job,” explained Lusk of Johnson’s limited playing time. “They went to some zone and the guys that were out there had it figured out. We did some good stuff. We rode those guys.”
Senior Dequon Miller tied a career-high with 8 assists.
Still undefeated in conference play, 11-4 (3-0) Illinois State is flying on a 4-game winning streak. The Redbirds will take flight to Terre Haute, Indiana, to face the Indiana State Sycamores on Saturday. Illinois State has not won at the Hulman Center since 2007.
11-5 (2-1) Missouri State, now 0-1 in 2017, travels home for a two-game homestand versus Southern Illinois and Evansville.
“It’s one game. It’s about what I thought our guys would do,” Lusk said. “It was good to see. when we struggled in this environment early on, how we responded. This team is going to keep growing.”
– P. Wesner