NORMAL — Kurt Alexander was being mobbed by his teammates. His improbable 3-pointer from deep on the wing seemed to give Drake a one-point overtime victory over Illinois State as a hush descended over Redbird Arena on Sunday.
Soon, the quiet was replaced by a wild celebration.
Officials went to the courtside monitor and determined Alexander’s shot came a split second after the horn sounded. It was the Redbirds’ turn to go nuts as ISU pulled out a 77-75 win in a Missouri Valley Conference basketball thriller before a crowd of 5,016.
“I was near the play when he shot it,” said John Wilkins, who led ISU with 15 points. “I knew the horn sounded when he shot it. I knew it was (no good).”
The Redbirds needed overtime in the overtime to escape with their third straight win, evening their record at 11-11 while improving to 3-8 in the Valley ahead of Wednesday’s game at Northern Iowa.
“I would like to thank whoever invented the courtside monitor,” said ISU coach Tim Jankovich. “I’m a big fan of his.”
Jankovich is also a big fan of Anthony Cousin.
Drake (8-14, 3-8) rallied from a 56-43 deficit with nine minutes left behind Rayvonte Rice. The freshman guard from Champaign Centennial High School scored all 17 of his points after the intermission, many by using his strength to drive inside the Redbird defense.
When he finally missed, Kraidon Woods dunked the rebound to put the Bulldogs ahead, 67-66, with 42 seconds left. After ISU’s Austin Hill misfired, Rice sank two free throws for a three-point Drake lead with 17.6 seconds showing.
Cousin got the ball in the corner for ISU, pump faked and drew the 6-9 Woods in the air. Woods came down on top of Cousin and fouled him as he put up an awkward 3-point attempt.
Officials first went to the monitor to make sure Cousin was behind the arc. That didn’t freeze the sophomore who calmly sank all three free throw attempts to tie the game.
“That was amazing for him to step up and hit those three free throws,” said Hill.
Rice fumbled a pass out of bounds in front of Drake’s bench with 3.4 seconds left. ISU couldn’t get off a last-second shot, but didn’t mind heading into its second straight five-minute extra period.
“I felt it the other night at Bradley. At the start of overtime both times it was like we were supposed to win this game,” said Jankovich. “I’m proud of the guys for having that mentality.”
ISU never trailed in the overtime. Hill sank two free throws with 1:09 left that broke a 75-all tie. Three days earlier, he made the winning free throws with 3.1 seconds left. While Bradley didn’t get a shot away in the closing seconds, Drake did.
Or almost did after rebounding Hill’s missed jumper with eight seconds left.
“We could not have played that last seven or eight seconds better than we did,” said Jankovich. “We walled it off and got a guy having to shoot over a heckuva defender (Jon Ekey) in total duress. For that to go in and count, I couldn’t imagine what that would have done to our guys.”
Trey Blue scored nine of his 11 points off the bench in the first half, helping ISU rally from a 13-4 deficit to a 32-23 lead at the break. Hill also added 11 points. Jackie Carmichael delivered his second straight double-double off the bench with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Forward Ben Simons paced Drake with 18 points. Ryan Wedel, who burned ISU for 22 points in the Bulldogs’ 76-68 victory on Jan. 18 in Des Moines, was held to seven points on 3-of-12 shooting.
“It was about as exciting a game as you could imagine from two teams that have had their struggles,” said Drake coach Mark Phelps. “I thought our guys did some good things in some pretty adverse circumstances.”
REDBIRD REPORT CARD
FRONT COURT: B—: ISU didn’t take full advantage of Seth VanDeest’s absence after halftime. Jackie Carmichael picked up second straight double-double with another energetic effort.
BACKCOURT: C+: Ryan Wedel was held in check the entire game by ISU defense. Anthony Cousin made play of game by getting – and sinking – three free throws to force overtime.
BENCH: B: Trey Blue provided huge spark for Redbirds in first-half charge with nine of 11 points, while Alex Rubin sank two key 3-pointers in second half. Not starting seems to agree with Carmichael.
OVERALL: B—: ISU couldn’t put the game away, but showed some guts in coming back to force overtime. The next five games will tell how far this team has really come in the last eight days.