NORMAL -- Everyone in the crowd got free food when a fan sank a halfcourt shot during a second-half timeout. But it was only the second biggest basket made Sunday at Redbird Arena.
John Wilkins, playing in his first game for Illinois State, took a nice feed from Anthony Cousin and swished a 3-pointer with seven seconds left in the first half against Jacksonville State. That sparked a struggling ISU offense, and the Redbirds took off from there to claim a 60-47 victory and earn the Global Sports Roundball Classic championship.
"It's kind of what we practice," said Wilkins. "I just knew that was going in."
ISU (5-1) was eager to welcome Wilkins, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who sat out the first five games for playing in a Belgium pro league when he was 16 years old. That was Wilkins' only basket, but he pulled down six rebounds and scored four points in 13 minutes.
"He definitely adds a lot more, being 6-9 and able to shoot it and also get to the lane as well," said guard Justin Clark, who paced ISU with 11 points. "His size on defense really helps us. He's basically like a guard, but he's the size of a post."
Jacksonville State (2-5), which had only one player as tall as 6-7, slowed down the tempo and seemed to lull ISU to sleep early. The Redbirds made 4-of-17 shots and trailed 13-10 with six minutes left before intermission.
Wilkins' basket gave ISU a 23-19 halftime lead. The Redbirds shot 52.2 percent from the field in the second half and kept their second straight opponent under 40 percent as Jacksonville State hit 37.8 percent (17 of 45).
"The truth be told late first half and in the second half I really feel I was starting to see for the first time since our first game guys loosening up and playing," said ISU coach Tim Jankovich. "That's what I always want them to do. I want them to feel like playing basketball and not have any thought, robotic movements or fear of coming out."
ISU outscored the Gamecocks 28-14 in the paint and 14-1 off turnovers.
"We did a good job in the first half having the score where we needed it to be," said Jacksonville State coach James Green. "It felt like that was the way we needed to play to give ourselves a chance. They came out in the second half and changed the tempo."
Blake Mishler came off the ISU bench and provided 10 points in the post, which offset a scoreless game from Jackie Carmichael. Alex Rubin also scored 10 points, while reserve Trey Blue added nine as ISU got half its points from the bench.
Mishler believes ISU's weekend victories might not have looked pretty (59-55 over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday), but were effective.
"The shots won't fall every game," said Mishler. "It's really important for us to get games that are really a slugfest and we have to play really good defense. That has allowed us to grow as a team."
ISU needs to grow in a hurry. The Redbirds entertain Nevada-Las Vegas at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday in the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge. It will be a much different game than what Jacksonville State played.
"I'm proud of the guys in a lot of areas," said Jankovich. "We had the patience to hold them (shooting) in the 30s. We didn't turn it over by feeling we needed to do something right away. Certainly we have a long way to go, but I'm encouraged."
Guard Nick Murphy scored a game-high 16 points to lead Jacksonville State, while forward Stephen Hall added 15.
Hill takes MVP: ISU senior guard Austin Hill was named the tourney's most valuable player after scoring 36 points in the Redbirds' three victories. He was joined on the all-tourney team by teammates Carmichael and Tony Lewis, Murphy, Charlie Westbrook of South Dakota and Tommie Sykes of Louisiana-Monroe.
South Dakota 79, Louisiana-Monroe 66: Westbrook scored 24 points to lead South Dakota (2-4) to its first tourney win. Sykes paced the Warhawks (2-5) with 19 points.
Redbird Report Card
FRONT COURT: C: Jackie Carmichael was a non-factor, but Blake Mishler picked him up with 10 points and Tony Lewis kept up his rebounding prowess with nine boards.
BACKCOURT: B: Justin Clark had strong game on both ends. He took the ball strong to the basket and didn't settle for 3-pointers. Alex Rubin looks like he's settling into point guard spot.
BENCH: C: John Wilkins showed some nerves in long-awaited debut, but sank big 3-pointer to end first half. Trey Blue keeps giving good effort at both ends of court.
OVERALL: B-: Defense held second straight opponent in 30-percent shooting range, while offense picked it up the last 24 minutes. However, ISU will need to play much better to compete with UNLV on Wednesday.