NORMAL — Tyler Brown was doing a postgame interview Saturday night when Illinois State athletic trainer John Munn came over and began putting ice on Brown’s right thumb he sprained two weeks ago.
Brown still might be hurting. Yet the pain he’s inflicting on opponents is far worse.
The Redbirds’ senior guard was honored as the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week, the league office announced Monday. Brown scored 52 points in ISU road victories against Drake and then No. 16-ranked Creighton, making 17 of 36 field goal attempts (5 of 14 outside the arc) and 13 of 15 free throws.
Brown also handed out 14 assists, including a career-high nine at Drake, to go with seven rebounds and five steals.
“He’s really hard to guard right now because he’s driving it and he can make shots, and he made some really tough shots,” said ISU coach Dan Muller after Saturday’s 75-72 victory against Creighton.
Brown scored 23 of his 27 points in the second half to spark the Redbirds’ first true road win over a ranked opponent in 28 years.
“The way they were playing defense was kind of crowded in the lane,” said Brown. “I’ve been going into the lane a lot more the past few games and it kind of threw me off for a second. Coach kept telling me to be aggressive. I knew in my mind I had to get going and find a way.”
It was the first time that Brown has been the Valley Player of the Week.
Brown also was one of 16 finalists named Monday for the “State Farm Dark Horse Dunker” competition. The winner will participate in the Denny’s Slam Dunk Competition at the State Farm College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships in Atlanta, Ga., on April 4. Voting is done at facebook.com/CollegeSlam.
ISU (15-10, 6-7), which has won six of its last seven games, returns home to face rival Bradley (14-11, 6-7) at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at Redbird Arena.
Parity rules: The Valley is one of only two conferences in the country where the first-place team has at least four losses with Creighton, Wichita State and Indiana State sharing the top spot at 9-4. The other is the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (Niagara at 10-4).
Ben Jacobson said “it’s certainly as competitive as I’ve seen” in seven years as UNI’s head coach and 12 years with the program.
Jacobson believes the wealth of seniors, plus the improvement of teams such as Bradley and Southern Illinois, has contributed to the Valley’s top-to-bottom strength this season.
“Probably the part of it people who either don’t know much about our league or don’t see our league very often or teams’ home fans, they don’t feel how hard it is to go out every two or three days and just roll people over,” he said. “Generally speaking, it’s much more difficult.”
Bradley coach Geno Ford said he doesn’t consider the Valley a mid-major league when Indiana State beats Miami (Fla.). That’s the last loss for the Hurricanes, who are No. 3 in this week’s Associated Press poll.
“The league is a nightmare every night out. You had better be ready to play and even if you’re ready to play you can lose,” said Ford. “The teams at the bottom pull a big upset and everyone wants to blame that on the league not being good. It actually shows depth if you want to look at it the other way.”
Many already are talking about the Valley possibly losing an NCAA Tournament at-large bid with some of the recent upsets that have knocked Creighton and Wichita State out of the polls.
However, one of the so-called bracketology experts, Jerry Palm, had all three Valley leaders in his latest NCAA Tournament projections Monday. The last time the Valley had more than two bids was 2006, when a record four teams were in the field.
Around the league: Evansville’s Colt Ryan became the 14th player in Valley history to join the 2,000-point club as he scored 33 points in the Purple Aces’ 84-78 overtime victory against Drake on Sunday night. Ryan now sits No. 13 at 2,027 points. Right on his heels is Creighton’s Doug McDermott (1,965) … Indiana State’s Jake Odum and Evansville’s Ned Cox joined the 1,000-point career club last week. Next to join that list is UNI’s Jake Koch (992) … Wichita State earned its 20th win Saturday against Missouri State. That gives the Shockers a record four straight seasons with 20 or more victories … Road teams are 18-47 (.277) in Valley games. Only Creighton and Wichita State (both 3-3) have .500 league road records. Last year’s road record in league play was 33-57 (.366).