NORMAL, ILLINOIS---Bouncing back from a three-game losing streak (Indiana State, Southern Illinois, and Evansville) after starting 3-0, the Illinois State Redbirds have flown back towards the middle of the standings in the Missouri Valley Conference thanks to a lull of good competition in conference play. However, as all MVC fans know, on any given night, a loss is possible. Therefore, even though they entered with an 0-8 leash around their neck, when the Drake Bulldogs came to central Illinois on Tuesday night ANYTHING was possible.
Yet, the EXPECTED transpired.
Nailing 15-of-28 three-point attempts on the night and led by a career-high 25 points from MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State utilized a 17-0 second half run to win by the score of 76-64.
Getting the party started with a McIntosh slam dunk, the Redbirds seized the first momentum swing of the contest with a 13-6 spurt spurred by three triples, two of which came from Deonte Hawkins.
Here they come, just like against Northern Iowa!
But surprisingly, they could not pull away!
With the entrance of Drake 7'0" freshman Dominik Olejniczak, the Bulldogs ran back into the game while acquiring a 15-13 lead immediately after the first media timeout. In other words, the last place team in "The Valley" rolled off nine straight points without any answer! Was the horrific skid about to end?
"Not so fast my friend!"
Down only two, Illinois State quickly flew back ahead with three more treys, one from each Nick Banyard, Deonte Hawkins, and Justin McCloud, before 2014-2015 MVC Newcomer of the Year DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell chipped in six straight, including two rim-rocking dunks that almost blew the roof off Redbird Arena! 28-19 Redbirds!
Though, and following the theme of the first half, the Bulldogs came storming back with a pair of Kale Abrahamson twine ticklers from beyond the arc, which withered what was a nine-point deficit to three.
Following a trading of three pointers between the two squads, Illinois State's McCloud re-ignited his team with one of his four three-pointers while McIntosh reasserted himself with four straight points. 38-28 Illinois State! Their biggest lead of the night!
But it would not last for long, as Drake recovered with a 7-2 push to end the half and trail by only five (40-35).
Shooting the ball at a remarkable 61.9% clip in the first, the worse thing that could have occurred to the Drake Bulldogs was a lengthy intermission with the capability of cooling them off. And just like a nightmare for Drake head coach Ray Giacoletti, a frustrating second twenty minutes ensued after halftime.
Although the Bulldogs drew within three on a Jacob Enevold Jensen dunk, Dan Muller's Redbirds grabbed control in their talons with a 17-0 domination. Starting with (you guessed it) a triple, this time by Hawkins, and finishing with, (WOW, you guessed it again!) a three-pointer from McCloud, Illinois State thrived after halftime while making it their contest to lose.
And spoiler alert: They didn't let this one slip away.
Even with Drake's "stud sophomore" Reed Timmer scoring 11 of his team-high 19 in the final 11:56, the Redbirds still kept a reasonable margin between them and the opposition, at one point it was 20, in route to their third straight victory.
Busting the Zone
Facing a 2-3 zone from the outset, the Illinois State Redbirds, who start big men at the heights of 6'7" and 6'8", did not allow the difference in defense effect them. Moreover, they made Drake suffer for their decision considering they netted 13 points in the first 3 minutes and 30 seconds. In fact, this journalist highly doubts the Redbirds would have made 15 triples, MiKyle McIntosh posts 25 points and 7 rebounds, and Deonte Hawkins (17 points) and Justin McCloud (12 points) drain a combined nine three-pointers without the fast start against the zone. Therefore, maybe the more accurate term for the Bulldogs' decision is a fatal mistake.
12-10 (6-3) Illinois State will look to extend their winning streak to four Saturday at Missouri State.
Averaging a whopping 19.5 points per game in his last four prior to tonight, Drake guard and leading scorer Reed Timmer couldn't have came in any hotter. But, just like a fire extinguisher Illinois State put out the flame. Despite getting off to a good start with four points in less than four minutes, the 6'1" guard was constantly frustrated by the athletic backcourt for the remainder as he made only 5 of his last 14 attempts (finished the game 6-of-15). Of course Timmer's 19 points look good in his game log and box score, but the fact he shot poorly from the floor shows the superstar's ability to score the basketball can be inhibited.
Other top performers on Tuesday for the Bulldogs included Graham Woodward, who stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists, and the leading scorer Saturday against Loyola (IL) Ore Arogundade, who scored 9.
5-16 (0-9) Drake will look to pick up their first win since December 22 when hosting Bradley on Saturday.