NORMAL – Jackie Carmichael twisted and put the ball in from almost behind his head while being fouled with 8:24 left. He followed that with a scream and fist pump.
If emotion was kept on the official box score, the Illinois State senior made have produced a triple-double Wednesday night at Redbird Arena.
“The games are starting to count down now. We have two more (home games) now,” said Carmichael. “There’s just a lot of emotion and trying to leave everything on the court.”
Carmichael and Tyler Brown carried the offensive load for the Redbirds, while the defense put the clamps on Bradley’s stellar backcourt. Carmichael produced 27 points and 13 rebounds, while Brown chipped in 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists as ISU avenged a loss in Peoria two weeks ago by pulling away late for a 79-59 victory in a Missouri Valley Conference game before a Redbird Arena crowd of 8,417.
The win was ISU’s seventh in the last eight games. The Redbirds (16-10) moved to the .500 mark in the Valley at 7-7, tied for fifth place, ahead of Sunday’s 7 p.m. game against league-leading Wichita State at Redbird Arena.
“We had to stay the course and I had to pick it up a little bit,” said ISU coach Dan Muller about the Redbirds’ 0-6 league start. “Was I focused on being .500 at that point? No. Did I think we were good enough to get back? Sure. I knew we were talented, but we weren’t playing with the right intensity.”
ISU, which wore its 1970s retro uniforms for the second and final time, had the right intensity defensively Wednesday.
The Redbirds held Walt Lemon, Jr., who burned ISU for a career-high 27 points in Peoria, to 15 points on 6-of-18 shooting. Lemon’s backcourt partner, Dyricus Simms-Edwards, went scoreless and was limited after injuring his back in the first half. Bradley shot 35.4 percent from the field.
The Braves (14-12, 6-8) still were right there, though, as Lemon’s rebound basket cut ISU’s lead to 55-53 with 9:42 left.
But Carmichael’s three-point play started a 24-6 run to end the game.
“In the first half team we did not defend very well, but in the second half we guarded great,” said Brown, as Bradley shot 29.4 percent after the intermission. “That’s how we need to come out every half. We did an excellent job on their two guards. They’re great guards, but we kept out them out of the paint and helped when we needed to.”
ISU committed a season-high 23 turnovers, while Bradley had 13 steals on Jan. 29 in Peoria. But those numbers were vastly different Wednesday. The Redbirds had only nine turnovers, while Bradley managed just five steals.
In fact, ISU outscored the Braves, 20-4, off turnovers.
“When it was two we had the ball three different times and couldn’t score,” said Bradley coach Geno Ford. “Give credit to them for continuing to play and making plays. Our guys battled. In reality any team in the country that loses one of your two main guys is going to struggle. We struggled.”
ISU shot only 36.7 percent in the first half while taking a 32-31 lead. But after the break, the Redbirds hit 59.3 percent.
“I thought we came out a little sluggish and guys wanted to win too badly,” said Muller. “You slow down, you don’t jump as high or move as fast. I thought we suffered from that in the first half, specifically defensively to start the game.”
Bradley took a 44-40 lead on Jalen Crawford’s 3-pointer with 16:30 left as the Redbird faithful started shuffling in their seats.
But the Braves’ lead lasted all of 76 seconds. Johnny Hill rolled in a 3-pointer to start a 7-0 run to give ISU the lead for good before the Redbirds poured it on in the final nine minutes.
“It was our want to,” said Carmichael. “We really just came together as a unit and put together a whole bunch of defensive stops and that translated into offense for us.”
The only downer for ISU came when Nick Zeisloft had to be helped off the court with 50 seconds left with an apparent injury to his right knee. Muller wasn’t sure the extent of the injury afterwards.
Jake Eastman added 11 points for the Braves, while Tyshon Pickett had 10.