Tag Archives: Paris Lee

Redbird Nation excited for possible matchup with Illinois

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.

NORMAL, Ill. — Fifty-seven miles — that is the distance between State Farm Center and Redbird Arena. Despite the proximity, the Illinois State Redbirds and Illinois Fighting Illini have played just eight times in 97 years.

A ninth meeting may be in the works for Wednesday.

If No. 1 Illinois State defeats UCF and No. 2 Illinois is victorious against Boise State, the in-state rivals will play for a trip to the 2017 National Invitation Tournament (NIT) semifinals. It would be the first time the two have battled in the postseason since the 1980 NIT.

Because the matchup is one win away, Bloomington-Normal is buzzing over the possibility to knock off the heralded program.

“They are obviously having a down year, and we are having an up year,” said ISU class of 1999 graduate David DiMarzio. “We should beat them.”

The first meeting between the Redbirds and Fighting Illini was in Normal on December 20, 1920. The Fighting Illini were the victors, winning 31-21. The initial contest was the last time the Redbirds hosted the most distinguished college basketball team in the state.

Ironically, the imbalance in scheduling led DiMarzio to alter his allegiance.

“I grew up as an Illini fan because I didn’t know any better. Then I came to ISU, and I found out that they won’t play us here [at Redbird Arena],” DiMarzio said. “That’s the big reason that I stopped liking them and cheering for them.”

Illinois has won all eight matchups against Illinois State. No game has been a blowout, however. The Redbirds have kept within ten points in four-of-eight contests. Moreover, the 2011-2012 squad took the Fighting Illini to the brink at the Cancun Challenge before being edged, 63-59.

Yet, this Redbirds’ team is more talented than five years ago. In comparison, the current group has won seven more games, not to mention claiming a Missouri Valley Conference regular season co-championship with Wichita State.

With this in mind, Bloomington, Ill., native Zachary Holland understands the significance of advancing to the semifinals of a postseason tournament.

“That would be really big,” Holland said. “I don’t think that has ever happened.”

Holland is right. The Redbirds have not won a game, in either the NCAA Tournament or NIT, to advance to the national semifinals.

Colleen Sherwood, who graduated from Illinois State last year, can already describe the atmosphere for the Fighting Illini’s trip to Normal.

“It would be crazy!” Sherwood said.

Whether the possible matchup leads to future regular season contests is unknown. 2004 was the last time Illinois scheduled Illinois State for a non-conference tilt.

Current ISU student Jacob Veazey hopes a victory could spark the beginning of a renewed rivalry.

“If we beat them in the tournament, I think it is a reason to schedule games yearly,” said Veazey.

School pride fills the community before tonight’s second round matchup against UCF. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST on ESPN.

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.

Hawkins, No. 1 Illinois State fly past No. 8 UC Irvine, 85-71

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.

NORMAL, Ill. — Postseason basketball: a new season for all.

Although it was not in the tournament they desired, Illinois State clubbed UC Irvine in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, 85-71. In a performance that featured the Redbirds shooting 52% from beyond the arc, seniors Deontae Hawkins and Paris Lee scored 22 and 13 points, respectively, to advance their home winning streak to 22 games.

“Some guys were like, ‘Man, I’m grateful we’re here but this is not the NCAA Tournament,'” said Lee of the group’s mentality after Selection Sunday. “Once we got settled in practice, everyone was like, ‘We might as well win it while we’re doing it.'” Continue reading Hawkins, No. 1 Illinois State fly past No. 8 UC Irvine, 85-71

Illinois State flying towards first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Illinois State’s Deontae Hawkins has been here before. He was two years younger, but the stage was just as bright.

“That was a bad feeling in our stomachs once we left this place,” said Hawkins. “It doesn’t sit right with me, Tony, Paris or MiKyle.”

As underclassmen, Hawkins, Paris Lee, Tony Wills, and MiKyle McIntosh suited up in the championship of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, also known as Arch Madness. The Redbirds, led by Daishon Knight and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, jumped on Northern Iowa before squandering a 16-point lead and what would have been the university’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998.

Today is a new day, however, and 27-5 Illinois State is in charge of its own destiny.

“We gotta come in here with that hungriness — that chip on our shoulder,” said Hawkins, the team’s leading scorer (14.0 PPG) and rebounder (6.4 RPG). “Everybody is against us, I believe. We are just going to come out and play our basketball.”

The last team standing in the way of the Redbirds is a familiar foe. Wichita State was defeated when Illinois State advanced to the 2015 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game. This time, though, they are waiting to seize what is coveted by all, an automatic bid to the “Big Dance.”

“We know we are not automatically in the tournament,” said Shockers’ sharpshooter Conner Frankamp. “That was our main focus coming into the week: get to Sunday and win on Sunday.”

In a role reversal, Gregg Marshall’s group is now the team graced with talented underclassmen. Two Shockers, redshirt freshman Landry Shamet and sophomore Markis McDuffie, were named to the All-MVC first team. Though, Frankamp and Shaq Morris have never NOT played in the NCAA Tournament to end a regular season. Thus, experience is still peppered in the No. 21 ranked team.

“We had a lot of doubters of us winning it. So, now we just want to let the doubters down and just win it all,” Morris said. “Personally, I just want to win. You know it’s in my blood, but it’s in my brothers’ too.”

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.

But, do the Shockers have any more experience than three seniors and a redshirt junior who have soared through both peaks and valleys during their collegiate careers?

“I feel like it brought the unit together as far as me, Tony, MiKyle and Deontae, and everybody that went through it,” said MVC Player of the Year Paris Lee of the 2015 Arch Madness championship loss. “This is [the] closest team we’ve been on, and it’s definitely due to the leadership.”

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.

Leadership begins with head coach Dan Muller. Muller has instilled important values and messages into his players since day one. One of great popularity is “chopping wood.”

“Each year we actually have a different theme. So this is the ‘chopping wood’ theme,” Muller explained. “Our guys have bought in. They’ve bought in every year. Last year was ‘don’t let go of the rope,’ but it’s all about taking care of the process. That’s it.”

Hawkins has a more elaborate meaning of the message.

“‘Chopping wood’ is just taking each possession at a time,” the All-MVC second team forward said. “Press pause. When you make a mistake, don’t even worry about the mistake you just made. Just press pause.

“How coach has been explaining it to us is: ‘carry the water,’ care for one another, [and] carry your brother.”

Illinois State enters Scottrade Center as a seven-point underdog. Yet, no betting line can wilt the confidence soaring underneath the Redbirds. They, like Wichita State, hold great value in winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament because it etches their name in the field of 68.

“We have been snubbed all year. But, we just have to take care of the process,” Hawkins said. “We can’t worry about any of that. We just have to play Illinois State basketball and play the right way, which is not doing anything outrageous.”

Illinois State eyes their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998 this afternoon. Opening tip is scheduled for 2 p.m. EST. The showdown can be viewed on CBS.

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.

RECAP: Illinois State fights off Evansville, 80-69 

Photo courtesy of David Proeber of The Pantagraph.

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Illinois State sophomore Keyshawn Evans said he liked the rims inside Scottrade Center. 

It showed on Friday afternoon.

Propelled by 15 points from Evans and a 19-point, 5-rebound, 2-assist performance by senior Deontae Hawkins, the Redbirds (26-5, 17-1) fought off pesky Evansville (16-17, 6-12), 80-69.

Bench production decided the contest. Illinois State outscored Evansville 30-8 in the battle of subs.

“Credit to Evansville. I thought they played unbelievably hard,” said Illinois State head coach Dan Muller. “They competed (and) had to keep fighting back. (They) had to make some big plays down the stretch.”

As Thursday night, the Purple Aces jumped on their opponent out of the gates. Eighth-seeded Evansville ran ahead to a multi-possession lead before the first media timeout. Continue reading RECAP: Illinois State fights off Evansville, 80-69 

RECAP: Tony Wills, Illinois State defeat Southern Illinois, finish unbeaten at home

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.

NORMAL, Ill. — Paris Lee made it clear on Sunday: He was not losing on Senior Night.

“I love our fans. They come out and support us and show us love,” said the Illinois State senior from Maywood, Illinois. “I can’t lose on Senior Night.”

The Redbirds, in a defensive struggle, finished the regular season a perfect 15-0 at home by defeating Southern Illinois, 50-46. Senior Tony Wills netted 16 points while sophomore Phil Fayne recorded his third career double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds.

“[We] had big plays down the stretch, again,” said Illinois State head coach Dan Muller, who captured his 100th career win in the process. “Our defensive numbers were great. It’s pretty cool to be a part of the first team to go undefeated in Redbird Arena history.”

The Redbirds were as red hot as their uniforms at the start. Wills nailed back-to-back three-pointers to light a fire. Continue reading RECAP: Tony Wills, Illinois State defeat Southern Illinois, finish unbeaten at home

RECAP: Illinois State survives Loyola, 65-63

Photo courtesy of David Proeber & The Pantagraph.

NORMAL, Ill. — 11 days.

Arch Madness, also known as the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, is just 11 days away, but before the action heads to St. Louis, Illinois State and Loyola had business to settle at Redbird Arena. 

And, the action did not disappoint.

Concluding the season series between two of Illinois’ best, the Redbirds fended off the pesky Ramblers, 65-63. A pair of Deontae Hawkins free throws gave Illinois State the lead prior to Ben Richardson’s half court heave rimming out at the horn.

“I feel lucky that we won, to be honest,” said Illinois State head coach Dan Muller. “Obviously, one inch or another and we don’t win.

“We got to start playing better.”

A sea of 8,052 was rocking from the tip. Surged by six from senior Deontae Hawkins, Illinois State flew out to an 8-2 lead.

The Ramblers came racing back, sprinting on a 12-6 mini-run. Three free throws from Donte Ingram tied the contest at 14 with 10:24 remaining.  Continue reading RECAP: Illinois State survives Loyola, 65-63