Top-seeded Illinois State went to its bench in its first game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Coach Dan Muller hopes its productivity is a sign of things to come.
The Redbirds (26-5) defeated eighth-seeded Evansville 80-69 on Friday in the quarterfinals at Scottrade Center. Illinois State advances to Saturday’s semifinal against Southern Illinois.
Guard Keyshawn Evans came off the bench to score 16 points. Reserve forward D.J. Clayton added 12, including a rare three-pointer. Their contributions allowed Muller to reduce the wear on his starters, a priority for the weekend. No Redbird played more than 29 minutes.
“Me and D.J. take pride coming off the bench and trying to bring energy,” Evans said. “Guys in for the other team are usually tired when we get in.”
Evans and Clayton scored 20 of Illinois State’s first 33 points.
“We went on the run when our bench was in,” Muller said. “If you’re going to play three games in thre days, you have to find minutes if you can. We had a lot of guys that played less than their average minutes. Hopefully, that will help us (in the semifinal).”
Deontae Hawkins led the Redbirds with 19 points, making 8 of 12 shots.
Jaylon Brown led the Aces (16-17) with 24 points on 7-of-25 shooting. He made all eight of his foul shots. David Howard added 14 points and seven rebounds. Christian Benzon scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Redbirds went up 51-37 early in the second half. The Aces cut the margin to six points on Brown’s layup with 1:10 remaining. A steal and basket by Benzon pulled the Aces within 73-69 with 55 seconds to play.
Illinois State made 7 of 8 foul shots in the final 52 seconds.
“Illinois State is going to be, in my opinion, an NCAA Tournament team,” Aces coach Marty Simmons said. “They’re quick. They’re athletic. They play extremely hard.”
On the block — Muller called it a stylistic stat — one team with tall players and one that insists on driving to the basket.
There is a pattern to swatting shots by the Aces.
Illinois State blocked a tournament-record 14 shots, topping Wichita State’s 11 against Evansville in 2014. Illinois State’s nine against Evansville in 2009 is tied for third with WSU’s nine against Loyola in 2016.
Evansville’s offense features a large number of screens and movement and curls toward the basket. The Aces don’t shoot a lot of threes, which means they are driving to the basket more than many teams. Hawkins, Phil Fayne and David Ndiaye each blocked four shots.
“They got strong bodies down there,” Brown said. “I can’t go down there trying to score on those guys. I’ve got to be smarter and try to change it up.”
The Redbirds blocked nine shots in both of the regular-season meetings.
“It’s just the way we play and they way they play,” Muller said. “They’re constantly attacking the rim and driving and driving and driving.”
Driving into trouble, as it turned out Friday.
Off at the end — Fourth-seeded Southern Illinois missed 6 of 10 foul shots in the final 52 seconds. The Salukis won, which gave coach Barry Hinson an excuse to joke about the follies at the line.
“That’s a classic example of how win a ballgame making free throws down the stretch,” he said.
The final 52 seconds provided a fitting end to a grinding defensive game.
SIU (17-15) held the fifth-seeded Ramblers (18-14) to 15 baskets and forced 20 turnovers. Loyola made 15 of 55 shots (27.3 percent). Leading scorer Milton Doyle scored five points, 10 below his average, on 1-of-9 shooting
SIU went 8 of 15 from the line. Senior Sean O’Brien scored two points, 10 below his average, on 1-of-8 shooting.
“I guaranteed them, if we held them under 39 percent, we would win the game,” Hinson said.
SIU’s Sean Lloyd produced one of the game’s biggest plays — and biggest celebrations — when he dove on a loose ball and called timeout with 1:01 to play and SIU up 49-41.
Hinson pumped his fists and ran on the floor, chest-bumping Lloyd near center court.
“That was the play,” Hinson said. “I was fired up. I was fired up for the Lord and fired up for Sean Lloyd.”
Bears end UNI’s streak — Northern Iowa’s six-game tournament win streak ended in frustrating fashion on Friday night in a 70-64 loss to Missouri State.
The Panthers (14-16) won the previous two tournaments. On Friday, they missed 40 of their 61 shots and 22 of their 28 three-pointers.
Missouri State guard Dequon Miller, giving up six inches or so, took on the job of guarding UNI’s Jeremy Morgan. Morgan scored 18 points, but he needed 18 shots to do it. He missed 11 of those.
“Dequon, (shoots) 2 for 10, but you don’t win the game without him,” MSU coach Paul Lusk said. “He guarded Jeremy Morgan and really made him work.”
The Bears play No. 21 Wichita State in Saturday’s semifinal after losing twice to the Shockers during the regular season.
“It’s always going to feel good to get a crack at a top 25 team,” Miller said. “We’re just going to battle and try to take care of business the right way.”
Wedge, Beggs inducted — Former WSU catcher Eric Wedge and former university president Don Beggs are part of the MVC’s Athletic Hall of Fame class.
They were inducted on Friday morning at a breakfast.
Wedge, who works as player development adviser for the Toronto Blue Jays, led the Shockers to the 1989 College World Series title. He earned All-America honors and MVC Player of the Year recognition. Wedge, from Fort Wayne, Ind., played briefly in the major leagues for Boston and Colorado. He managed Cleveland and Seattle.
Beggs served as president at WSU from 1999-2012 and chancellor at Southern Illinois from 1997-99.
Wedge and Beggs give WSU 13 inductees in the hall, most of any MVC school.
Also inducted are Southern Illinois administrator Donald Boydston, Illinois State basketball player Charlotte Lewis, Bradley basketball player Marcus Pollard, who played at Seward County Community College, and Missouri State administrator Mary Jo Wynn.
Scottrade Center, St. Louis
Evansville 83, Indiana State 72
Bradley 67, Drake 58
Illinois State 80, Evansville 69
Southern Illinois 55, Loyola 50
Wichita State 82, Bradley 56
Missouri State 70, Northern Iowa 64
2:30 p.m. — No. 1 Illinois State vs. No. 4 Southern Illinois (CBS Sports Network)
5 p.m. — No. 2 Wichita State vs. No. 6 Missouri State
1 p.m. — Championship (CBS)