NORMAL, Ill. — The Birds in red have done it again.
In a matchup of Missouri Valley Conference unbeatens, Illinois State defeated Wichita State, 76-62. A combined 21 points off the bench flew the Redbirds ahead of the relentless Shockers in front of a crowd of 9,078.
“I’m really happy for our team. We continue to guard at a high level,” said Illinois State head coach Dan Muller. “A lot of guys stepped up and made plays offensively. I thought we had a couple things that we hurt them with. In the end, guys made shots.”
On the first possession, Illinois State senior Paris Lee ignited the red sea with a three-pointer. Moments later, fellow senior Tony Wills got in on the act, nailing back-to-back triples, to extend the advantage. Two more from Lee supplied an 11-5 edge prior to the first media timeout.
Wichita State, as the mid-major powerhouse they are, quickly erased the initial deficit with seven straight. Shaquille Morris sparked a fire under the Shockers, providing four points in the spurt.
Back-and-forth the two MVC squads battled. There were five ties in the first 12 plus minutes, including a knotted contest at 22 all. Then, DJ Clayton scored, causing the crowd to explode and momentum to turn.
Clayton, who made 5-of-5 shot attempts and had a bench-high 11 points, spurred a 14-3 domination that flew the Redbirds ahead by nine. Illinois State’s defense was imperative during the stretch. Head coach Dan Muller switched to a 3-2 zone, frustrating Wichita State and holding them to 1-of-8 shooting to close the half.
“It really worked. There were some plays that they were getting down low and it was hard to double,” McIntosh explained. “When we went zone, it made it easier for the bigs and the guards.”
Redbirds’ sophomore Keyshawn Evans closed the half with two triples in the final three minutes, sealing a 36-27 advantage.
In the first half, foul trouble and the Redbirds’ defense frustrated Wichita State superstar Markis McDuffie. He was held to 0 points in 7 minutes.
“He didn’t play very much in the first half. The first foul was ridiculous — he ran into a guy and [the officials] thought it was a moving screen,” said Shockers’ head coach Gregg Marshall. “He was not locked in. He blew the third set that we ran. He just seemed to be a little wild.”
The beginning of the second half was a different story.
The sophomore scored eight straight Shockers’ points pulling his squad within two.
With each made McDuffie field goal, the Redbird faithful grew more uneasy. Then, Illinois State’s Phil Fayne broke the drought.
Despite Wichita State’s Zach Brown finding the bottom of the net for five points, MiKyle McIntosh fended off the personal run. From McIntosh, a Clayton layup and Fayne slam dunk pushed the advantage to three possessions.
But, Deontae Hawkins did one better.
The senior swished one of his three triples and gave the Redbirds their first double-figures lead.
Although Wichita State raced back with seven unanswered, three triples, one by each member of Illinois State’s “Big Three” (MiKyle McIntosh, Deontae Hawkins, Paris Lee), replenished the advantage.
Three scoreless minutes for the Shockers resulted in a 14-point margin. None other than MiKyle McIntosh, who had a game-high 20 points, sent Redbird Arena into a frenzy with an exclamation point ally-oop finish.
“It was a great feeling. I actually told him to pass to me,” McIntosh said. “I knew they were all going to try to press up.”
After Wichita State’s depth was on display with 7 players with 7+ points on Wednesday, just three broke the threshold tonight. Darral Willis Jr. and Landry Shamet floundered to 14 points apiece; the prior was 6-of-13 from the field while the latter ended 3-of-9. 8 rebounds and 6 assists complemented Shamet’s point total. McDuffie, one of the most highly touted NBA prospects in the MVC, was held to 11 following a career-high 26 versus Loyola. Overall, the Shockers shot 34.9%.
Five Redbirds finished in double-figures. “The Big Three” combined for 44 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 assists. MiKyle McIntosh led the way with 20 points and 5 rebounds, Deontae Hawkins was 5-of-9 for 14 points and 8 rebounds, and Paris Lee enjoyed a 10-point, 6-assist, 3-rebound performance. DJ Clayton and Keyshawn Evans put forth 11 and 10 points respectively.
“We have trust in our bench,” McIntosh said. “I think our team is as deep as any.”
No longer is 15-4 (5-1) Wichita State atop “The Valley.” The Shockers will continue their current road trip at Evansville on Tuesday night.
“We can’t win against a good team with this number of poor performances,” Marshall said. “For us to win, we need more guys to play well.”
14-4 (6-0) Illinois State is officially the big bird on top. The Redbirds, who were picked second in the preseason poll, will travel to Peoria for their first meeting with rival Bradley.
“You’re hunted now, and that is not really a place our guys are used to experiencing,” Muller said of being in 1st place. “I got a lot of confidence in those guys in that locker room.”
– P. Wesner