▪ Key statistics: Starters Landry Shamet, Zach Brown, Markis McDuffie and Daishon Smith combined to score four points and go 0 for 9 from the field in the first half.
WSU’s bench, after chipping in 13 points in the first half, scored two (Shaq Morris) in the second half.
As coach Gregg Marshall said, more players need to play well.
From McDuffie’s erratic start to the game to Brown’s shot selection to Austin Reaves’ poorly timed drives to Morris’ two violations while rebounding free throws, the Shockers didn’t play well.
The road tends to cut down on the number of players who play well. That usually doesn’t happen to the Shockers. The Redbirds get much of the credit for making them uncomfortable and ineffective.
▪ How the game turned: The Shockers cut the lead to 56-53 with 6:14 to play.
A climb, considering how well Illinois State played, but time to rally.
Two minutes, four seconds later, the Redbirds led 65-55. Game over.
Illinois State’s surge started when Phil Fayne mugged Conner Frankamp on a screen to free Paris Lee for a three.
After a miss by McDuffie, MiKyle McIntosh and Deontae Hawkins ran a two-man game at the top of the key. McDuffie and Morris both left Hawkins open for a three and a 62-53 lead.
Willis made two foul shots with 4:33 to play.
McIntosh, well-defended by McDuffie, hit a three for the 10-point edge.
▪ Records: WSU 15-4, 5-1 MVC; ISU 14-4, 6-0
▪ Rotation watch: Marshall went with a big lineup with Morris playing 20 minutes off the bench and Rauno Nurger 14.
Frankamp played 25 minutes, his most since the Bahamas, and sometimes did a solid job of keeping Lee in front of him.
Smith played 14 minutes, his fewest since the Bahamas and didn’t record an assist for the first time this season.
The difference between Smith’s energy and impact at home and on the road is striking.
In home wins over Bradley and Drake, he set a fierce tone on defense, totaling seven steals. He averages 9.6 points in three MVC home games and is 6 of 9 from the field.
In three MVC road games, he has two steals and eight points and is 0 for 6 from behind the arc.
▪ Somebody said this:
▪ Good: The Redbirds are matching their talent with maturity and that’s good for the MVC.
Illinois State is too good of a situation to sit out the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
With a senior- and junior-dominated lineup, the Redbirds finally have the experience and continuity that should win over the long haul of a conference season. With Lee, McIntosh and Hawkins, they have three All-MVC candidates. Lee might be the Player of the Year leader. The Shockers had no answers for McIntosh, who scored 20 points in 27 minutes on nine shots. He is first in Ken Pomeroy’s All-MVC rankings.
“They’re playing consistently hard,” Marshall said. “In the past, they would get down on themselves and have a little lull and give you a chance to come back. They’ve got some veterans. Obviously, they’re hungry to do something.”
Redbirds coach Dan Muller trusts his group to keep the MVC standings in proper perspective.
“This team’s been so mature the last month-and-a-half,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guys in that locker room keeping solid and understanding why we’re playing well.”
▪ Bad: It’s unclear how much a win would have helped WSU’s NCAA at-large resume.
Probably not much, at least in Jerry Palm’s mind. The Redbirds own a top-50 RPI, but no impressive non-conference wins.
That opportunity is gone. The Shockers are 1-4 vs the Pomeroy top 100 and 0-3 vs. the RPI top 50.
Their kenpom.com ranking of No. 27 remains strong. WSU needs more and outside of 14 straight wins, I don’t know what helps enough.
▪ Next up: at Evansville (10-9, 1-5 MVC), 8 p.m. Tuesday (CBS Sports Network)
The Aces have lost four straight and are struggling on offense. They rank last in the MVC by scoring 61.8 points and shooting 38.2 percent in conference games.