The Purple Aces are picked to finish sixth in the Missouri Valley Conference, according to the preseason poll. Sophomore D.J. Balentine currently leads the MVC in scoring (22.6 points per game).
WHERE TO WATCH: ISU AT EVANSVILLE
AcesTV (Live Stream): http://www.gopurpleaces.com/showcase/
LAST MEETING: REDBIRDS WIN THRILLER IN OVERTIME OVER EVANSVILLE, 79-78
NORMAL, Ill. (Jan. 15, 2014) - Fans at Redbird Arena were treated to a thrilling Missouri Valley Conference basketball game, as Illinois State and Evansville changed the lead 13 times and were tied 10 times in a game that needed overtime to decide its outcome. In the end, it was the Redbirds (10-7, 3-2 MVC at the time) that came out on top with a late three-pointer from Zach Lofton in overtime to defeat the Purple Aces (8-10, 1-4 MVC at the time), 79-78, on Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena. The win was ISU's seventh in a row at home at the time and the team had won nine out of its last 12 games overall. The overtime win was the first for the Redbirds since an 86-84 win at Drexel last season, on Nov. 15, 2012 in Philadelphia.
SEARCHING FOR SECOND SWEEP
As Illinois State faces Evansville for the second time this season Wednesday night, the Redbirds can sweep the regular-season series versus UE after beating the Purple Aces in the first meeting, 79-78, Jan. 15. With two wins over Drake, the Redbirds have already swept one Valley team this year. Last season, ISU managed one series sweep by knocking off Southern Illinois both at home and on the road.
VALLEY RACE HEATS UP
With just six regular-season games remaining, Illinois State enters Wednesday night's contest at Evansville in a four-way tie for third place in the Missouri Valley Conference standings with a 6-6 league record (the complete standings are listed on pg. 18). Three out of ISU's final six games are against the teams that ISU is tied with in the standings (vs. Bradley Feb. 15, vs. Missouri State Feb. 18, at Southern Illinois March 1).
NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE COMES INTO PLAY
The 2014 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament is 22 days away (as of Wednesday, Feb. 12). Records in head-to-head competition are compared (in both two-way and multiple-team ties) with the higher seed going to the team that has won the most games against the other(s). If head-to-head competition does not break the tie, the deadlock will be broken by non-conference schedule strength (NCSS) as calculated by The RPI Report on the day before the final day of conference games. Illinois State currently ranks third in the league - only behind Northern Iowa and Wichita State - with a 148 NCSS ranking.
Illinois State is the only team in the Missouri Valley Conference to feature two players shooting 50 percent or better from the field this season. Freshman center Reggie Lynch ranks second in the league with a 59.5 percent average, while redshirt junior guard Bobby Hunter is fifth in the league with a 50.3 percent shooting-clip.
SAMUEL STEPS UP
Sophomore forward Jamaal Samuel has embraced his increased roll following the injury of fellow-forward John Jones at Indiana State (Jan. 25). In his 14 games prior to Jones' injury, Samuel averaged 1.6 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 7.4 minutes per game. However, in his four games since the Indiana State contest, Samuel has averaged 6.8 points (+5.2), 3.8 rebounds (+2.4) and 1.5 blocks (+0.9) in 19.3 minutes per game (+11.9), including his first-career start against Drake (Feb. 1). The New Orleans, La., native was particularly impressive in ISU's win over Northern Iowa (Feb. 5), earning a career-best 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting. He followed that up with nine points Sunday afternoon at Loyola.
HUNTER AT HOME IN THE VALLEY
ISU redshirt junior guard Bobby Hunter has significantly increased his productivity in the Redbirds' 12 Missouri Valley Conference games this season. Hunter has not only netted double-figures in 10-out-of-12 Valley games, but he also leads ISU in Valley-play with 11.8 points (team-high) on 51.7 percent shooting, 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists (team-high) and 1.5 steals (team-high) per game. During non-conference play, Hunter averaged 9.5 points on 48.4 percent shooting, 2.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals. Last week, Hunter not only scored a team-high 17 points in the Redbirds' win over Northern Iowa (Feb. 5), but he also led Illinois State throughout its two games last week with 12.5 points per game on 57.1 percent shooting.
UNDER 70 SUCCESS
The Redbirds - who rank second in league-field goal percentage defense (42.7 percent) - have statistically proven that holding teams under 70 points is a recipe for success. With a 76-65 win over Northern Iowa (Feb. 5), Illinois State improved to 10-2 when holding its opponents to 69 points or less this season. Conversely, ISU is 3-9 when its opponents net 70 or more points.
LYNCH BUILDS RECORD
After earning the single-season blocks record for a freshman with a pair of stuffs against Drake (Feb. 1), center Reggie Lynch blocked two more shots versus Loyola Sunday to extend the record to 58. The previous mark was 52. Lynch is now in fourth place on the single-season blocks list and is already tied for No. 14 on the career-blocks list. Lynch leads the league and ranks 40th nationally in blocks per game (2.4).
LEE-DING IN STEALING
With 36 steals this season (1.5 per game) freshman guard Paris Lee is in search of his own freshman record. The single-season freshman steals mark is 57, set by Ron Jones in 1976-77. Lee forced a career-high six steals in his first-career game - at VCU Nov. 8 - which was one shy of a matching a program record for single-game steals.
AIMING TO EVEN UP
Illinois State will try to even-up its two-game road trip when the Redbirds travel to Evansville Wednesday night. ISU dropped its first game of the road-swing Sunday afternoon at Loyola. ISU shot 44.9 percent from the field, but Loyola managed a 54.9 percent shooting-clip, and the Ramblers outrebounded the Redbirds, 37-23. Maywood, Ill., native Paris Lee led ISU with 14 points on 4-for-7 shooting.
ISU's zone defense has continued to effectively challenge the opposition since the Redbirds began utilizing it in their fifth game of the season. Illinois State currently ranks No. 2 in field goal percentage defense (42.7 percent) among Missouri Valley Conference teams. With ISU's four-guard lineup - including redshirt junior Bobby Hunter and freshman guard Paris Lee who are tied for eighth in the league with 1.5 steals per game - the Redbirds lead the Valley in steals (7.4) per game. With freshman center and league-leading shot blocker Reggie Lynch in the middle of the zone, ISU ranks second in league-blocks (4.4), and ISU is No. 2 in defensive rebounds, with 25.4 per game.
FOR COMPARISON'S SAKE
Despite Illinois State featuring 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 more-experienced Redbird team was at this point in league-play. Last year's ISU team was 5-7 in the Missouri Valley Conference (14-10 overall), while the 2013-14 Redbirds are currently 6-6 and 13-11.
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