The Sycamores are picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley Conference according to the official preseason poll, and senior guard Jake Odum was named to the 2013-14 Preseason All-MVC Team while senior forward Manny Arop was an honorable mention selection.
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LAST MEETING: REDBIRDS HOLD OFF SYCAMORES FOR 60-58 VICTORY
NORMAL, Ill. (Jan. 23, 2013) - In a game that featured 11 ties and 10 lead changes, it was no surprise that the outcome came down to the final shot in the game between Illinois State and Indiana State. The Sycamores (12-7, 5-3 MVC at the time) had a chance to win on a last-second three-pointer, but the attempt rimmed out as the Redbirds (11-9, 2-6 MVC at the time) held on for the 60-58 victory on Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena.
In front of 9,510 - the largest crowd at Redbird Arena since 2010 - Illinois State led by as many as six points in the first half en route to holding a 28-25 halftime advantage against No. 4 Wichita State Wednesday night. ISU not only outscored the Shockers, but also outrebounded WSU (18-17), while forcing more turnovers (11-5) and collecting more assists (5-3) in the first half. Ultimately, Illinois State's overall 1-for-25 three-point shooting proved costly, as the Shockers came from behind in the second to beat ISU, 70-55.
Illinois State is now 4-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference, which is the Redbirds' best start to league-play since Osiris Eldridge and company also began 4-3 in 2009-10. Illinois State has also won 10-out-of-its-last-14 games, and the Redbirds are hoping to start a road-winning streak after earning their first Valley road victory over Drake Jan. 18.
LYNCH CLOSES IN ON RECORD
After blocking two shots in the loss to Wichita State Wednesday night, freshman center Reggie Lynch increased his season total to 47 blocks, which is just five away from tying ISU's freshman blocks record of 52, set by Jon Ekey in 2010-11. Lynch currently is tied with Anthony Slack (2007-08) for eighth on the single-season blocks list and is tied for No. 19 on the career-blocks list.
SHOOTING FOR PERCENTAGE
Redbird redshirt junior guard Bobby Hunter is one of just three guards in the Missouri Valley Conference currently shooting 48 percent or better from the field. Hunter - who is shooting 50.0 percent from the field - is in good company with Jeff White (Loyola, 51.8 percent) and Desmar Jackson (SIU, 48.4 percent).
BEATING THE BULLDOGS
Illinois State put together one of its most-complete offensive and defensive efforts of the season in its Feb. 1 win over Drake. The Redbirds shot 48.1 percent from the field - ISU's third-highest mark of the season - while holding the Bulldogs to 34.8 percent from the field - ISU's fifth-best defensive effort. ISU also out-rebounded Drake, 38-23, while collecting more assists (14-10), blocks (5-0) and steals (10-8).
KNIGHT'S CLUTCH WEEK
Junior guard Daishon Knight led Illinois State with 16.5 points per game on 57.1-percent (12-for-21) shooting in the Redbirds' last two Missouri Valley Conference victories over Evansville and at Drake, Jan. 15 and Jan. 18. Knight's clutch three-pointer against Evansville with eight seconds remaining in regulation forced overtime, and the Redbirds held off the Purple Aces thanks to four more overtime-points from Knight, who finished with 16. Against Drake, Knight led Illinois State with 17 points as the Redbirds won decisively on the road. Along with leading the team in scoring, Knight also averaged 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 steals.
Illinois State and Evansville required overtime to settle an offensive-showdown Jan. 15 on Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena. Despite the Purple Aces netting 15 three-pointers - more than any opponent in ISU history - the Redbirds answered with one of their top offensive efforts of the season, as ISU matched a season-high first-half shooting-percentage of 58.1 percent. The Redbirds also outrebounded Evansville (37-35) and recorded more blocks (6-2) and steals (8-3) while committing fewer turnovers (8-11). ISU is now 1-1 in overtime games this season.
LOFTON REGISTERS CAREER-HIGH
Redbird sophomore guard Zach Lofton scored a career-high 21 points in a career-best 39 minutes during Illinois State's win over Evansville Jan. 15. Lofton - who started the season by netting double-figures in the first seven games - seems to have bounced back offensively after being held to one double-digit effort in the four games prior to Evansville. Redshirt junior guard Bobby Hunter also enjoyed a productive game against Evansville, scoring a career-best five field goals.
FOR COMPARISON'S SAKE
Despite Illinois State featuring what is believed to be the least-experienced team in the nation, this year's Redbird squad (which features eight newcomers to NCAA Division I basketball on the current active roster) is ahead of where last year's much more experienced Redbird team was at this point in last season's conference standings, despite last year's squad consisting of four seniors and just two scholarship-newcomers. Last year's ISU team was 10-9 and 1-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference after its first 19 games, while the 2013-14 Redbirds are currently 11-8 and 4-3 in the Valley.
MAKING A STATE-MENT
After earning a win over Loyola Jan. 11, Illinois State improved to a perfect 5-0 against NCAA Division I teams in the state of Illinois this season. ISU's 5-0 in-state mark is the best among Illinois' 13 D-I teams, with Northern Illinois and Western Illinois maintaining the only other undefeated records of 1-0. The Redbirds have four more chances to earn in-state victories during the regular-season.
Along with freshman guard Reggie Lynch's Valley-best 2.5 blocks per game (which ranks No. 39 nationally), he also ranks second in league-field goal percentage at 59.0 (59-for-100). Meanwhile, teammate Zach Lofton ranks No. 5 in MVC free throw shooting with an 84.9 percent average (62-for-73). As a team, Illinois State leads the MVC in steals (7.2) and ranks No. 2 in field goal percentage defense (42.1 percent), rebounding offense (36.3), blocked shots (4.4) and defensive rebounds (25.9).
LOW SCORE = WINNING SCORE
Illinois State has thrived in low-scoring games this season. The Redbirds have utilized their stifling 2-3 zone defense to improve to 8-1 when allowing under 70 points. ISU is also 5-2 when scoring between 50-69 points. ISU has reached 70 points in just two of its last six wins; however, the Redbirds have held their opposition to 64 points or less during five of the last six victories.
Illinois State, which is believed to have less experience than any other NCAA Division I team, has made significant progress throughout the season. In the Redbirds' first five games (1-4), ISU averaged 68.4 points while shooting 38.3 percent and allowing opponents to shoot 45.7 percent. In contrast, the Redbirds have averaged 70.1 points (+1.7) per game while shooting 41.1 percent (+2.8) and holding opponents to 40.7 percent (-5.0) through their last 14 games (10-4).
EXPERIENCE PAYS OFF
Redshirt sophomore guard Nick Zeisloft has significantly increased his productivity this season compared to where he was after seven conference games last year. Zeisloft is now averaging 6.5 points per game compared to a 4.9 average after 19 games last season. Zeisloft, who now often plays the four position, has more-than doubled his rebounding average from 1.6 at this time last year to 3.8 currently.
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