NORMAL — Daishon Knight missed all five of his shots in the first half Wednesday night at Redbird Arena. The message from Illinois State basketball coach Dan Muller at halftime?
Keep firing away.
Knight obliged. The junior guard sank 6 of 7 attempts from the field after the intermission and sparked ISU to a 75-56 victory over Chicago State before a Redbird Arena crowd of 4,211.
“Sometimes you have a rough start and you have to stay out there and keep playing,” said Knight. “That’s what coach told me to do. Keep playing and it will come to you.”
Knight paced ISU with 15 points. Freshman center Reggie Lynch added a season-high 14 points, while Bobby Hunter contributed 12 points as the Redbirds improved to 4-4 with their third straight win.
ISU also reached the .500 mark for the first time this season with its first win at home.
Chicago State (3-5) held a 30-28 halftime lead as the Redbirds shot 34.5 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes. But Muller didn’t feel there was a hangover effect from playing three games in San Francisco during the Thanksgiving break.
“We just missed shots,” he said. “I could see the effort and execution.”
Quinton Pippen, the nephew of former Chicago Bulls standout Scottie Pippen, sank a 3-pointer to start the second half and give the Cougars a 33-28 lead.
It was all ISU from there.
Knight made his first three shots and scored eight points as the Redbirds used an 18-6 run to gain a 46-39 advantage.
“Daishon Knight got us off to a great start in the second half. I thought that was huge,” said Muller.
Chicago State cut the deficit to 48-43 before the Redbirds put the game away with a 14-3 surge to increase the lead to 62-46.
While ISU shot 62.5 percent in the second half, the Redbirds’ defense was solid throughout the game.
Chicago State shot 30.9 percent as ISU stayed in a zone and also used three-quarter court pressure to slow down the Cougars’ offense.
Pippen paced Chicago State with 16 points.
Chicago State beat Southern Illinois on Saturday and lost to Bradley last month.
“I told people coming into this game this is the third Missouri Valley team we’ve played, and I clearly thought this was the best Missouri Valley team we’ve faced,” said Chicago State coach Tracy Dildy. “They’ve got guys who can make shots with guys flying at them. We had guys really contesting shots and they made them.”
Lynch flexed his muscles inside. The 6-foot-10, 240-pound freshman went 6 of 7 from the field to go with five rebounds and three blocks. He was about ISU’s only offense early in the game.
“It was really just the guards finding me. I appreciate that,” said Lynch. “Getting inside and paint touches are what makes an offense work.”
The Redbirds played their fourth straight game without Michael Middlebrooks. The junior forward, who is ISU’s leading rebounder, was indefinitely suspended last week for what Muller called conduct detrimental to the team.
ISU still was able to grab a 43-33 rebounding advantage. Sophomore Nick Zeisloft, who has moved to the No. 4 (power forward) spot despite being only 6-4, tied a career-best with seven rebounds. Knight also had seven boards.
“We really focused on defense in San Francisco and now know how much good defense works,” said Lynch. “When we came out here we knew what to do and we executed it well.”
ISU missed its first seven shots and didn’t score until Lynch’s reverse layup with 14:38 left. But the Cougars also were cold at the start as Nate Duhon connected from the wing for the game’s first basket almost four minutes into the game.
The Redbirds took their first lead at 14-11 on Zach Lofton’s 3-pointer. Chicago State outscored ISU, 15-10, in the last eight minutes to take a 30-28 lead at the intermission.
“I was pleased with our defense throughout the game. We had good shots in the first half and just didn’t make them,” said Muller. “Our defense kept us in it. We got the pace going a little better in the second half because we were scoring and they had to pick their tempo up a little bit. A lot of guys made big plays. Our depth helped us.”
ISU entertains No. 25-ranked Dayton (7-1) at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Redbird Arena. Muller issued a challenge for Redbird fans.
“I would be extremely disappointed if this arena is not pretty full on Saturday night,” he said. “We have a top 25 team coming in here. Everyone wanted a better schedule, which is great. I did, too. We’re playing better. Come to Redbird Arena Saturday night to cheer on these guys. It will have an impact on a game.”