Regular-season meeting: WSU 70-62, J4 at Koch Arena; WSU 68-62, F14 at Redbird Arena
▪ The Shockers won the two previous meetings in different ways. At home, they made 52.3 percent of their shots and survived a disheartening disadvantage on the boards. Illinois State scored 15 second-chance points and out-rebounded WSU by seven on the offensive end. The Redbirds also outscored WSU 20-19 at the line.
In the second game, the Shockers rebounded ferociously and won that battle 40-26. They out-scored ISU by 14 points at the line, which meant they could survive a poor shooting night (36.7) percent.
The common thread is WSU’s late-game execution.
At Koch Arena, the Shockers led 50-48 with 6:38 to play. It finished the game on a 20-12 run because it didn’t commit a turnover, made 5 of 9 shots and 8 of 12 foul shots. The Redbirds, in that span, committed two turnovers and made 5 of 13 shots.
At Redbird Arena, WSU led 56-54 with 3:19 to play. It finished the game on a 12-8 run with no turnovers. It made both shots and 8 of 12 fouls shots. The Redbirds committed two turnovers and missed 4 of 6 shots.
If Saturday’s game is close in the final minutes, the edge appears to go to the Shockers. Illinois State has outscored WSU 23-19 in points off turnovers in the two games, but the Shockers tighten up their ball control in the final minutes.
▪ WSU, while outscored by ISU by one point at the line in the first game, attempted five more free throws. In two games, WSU attempted 61 fouls shots to Illinois State’s 42. The Redbirds foul more than their opponents — 594 to 548 with seven more disqualifications. They can do that, because they’re deep and its plays to their aggressive defense. WSU is able to use that against them and pile up points at the line.
Few players are better than Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker at drawing fouls. At Illinois State, they combined to shoot 20 free throws.
Redbirds center Reggie Lynch fouled out of both games. He is effective when on the floor — 14 points and 18 rebounds on 6 of 10 shooting — in an average of 20 minutes. He gives WSU’s Darius Carter problems with his size and height.
▪ WSU’s Zach Brown played well on Friday, scoring eight points in 12 minutes and working a few possessions to guard Southern Illinois guard Anthony Beane. Brown could be a key figure against the Redbirds for his defense. He possesses the athletic skills to match up with DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, a 6-foot-5 swingman who can shoot threes and drive.
▪ I’ll be interested to catch some of the Loyola-Northern Iowa game. The Ramblers supplied the performance of the weekend with their 81-53 win over third-seeded Indiana State on Friday. The Ramblers put together about a three-minute span of defense, running and dunking that was as impressive as any burst I’ve seen this season.
It has to be a relief to the MVC and a thrill to Loyola when the Ramblers show they can compete. There will be a lot of scrutiny on that school as the new member and their improvment so far is encouraging.