CARBONDALE — Jackie Carmichael powered inside for a layup with 19 seconds left to give Illinois State a one-point lead in Sunday’s back-and-forth Missouri Valley Conference basketball game.
As officials checked the replay monitor to see exactly how much time was left, the Redbirds huddled. ISU, along with everyone in the SIU Arena crowd of 4,457, knew what Southern Illinois had in mind.
“We said, ‘Of course they’re going to (Carlton) Fay and he’s going to the corner,’ and of course that happened,” said ISU coach Tim Jankovich.
Fay, who came in the game shooting 17.6 percent on 3-pointers, didn’t flinch when he got the ball. With Jon Ekey quickly closing on him, Fay launched a high-arching shot that swished with 13 seconds showing.
ISU committed a turnover on the ensuing possession. Fay sank two free throws to complete a 33-point performance and give the Salukis a 63-59 victory to keep ISU winless in the Valley.
“This one hurts a lot because we could have won,” said ISU sophomore John Wilkins. “It was just a one-possession game.”
Instead, the Redbirds (8-8) dropped to 0-5 in the Valley for the first time since the 2003-04 season. ISU tries again for its first league win at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday against Northern Iowa at Redbird Arena.
“We needed some (defensive) stops and did get some toward the very end, but not the one that counted,” said Carmichael, who tied Wilkins for team-high honors with 13 points. “We’ll go back to the drawing board and get tougher.”
Fay, a senior from Hennepin, sank 10-of-18 field goal attempts, including 5 of 8 outside the arc. He was the first player this season for SIU (9-7, 3-2) to score more than 20 points in a game.
“He hit so many tough shots. He was tremendous tonight,” said Jankovich. “Just our luck he comes out of a 17-percent shooting slump from 3 and decides to do that tonight.”
But Jankovich said it wasn’t Fay’s 3-pointers that sank the Redbirds. SIU grabbed a 31-24 rebounding advantage, including 12 offensive boards that led to 15 second-chance points.
Also, SIU made 16 of 19 free throws while ISU was 7 of 8.
“They came ready to compete,” said SIU coach Chris Lowery of the Redbirds. “They did not play like they had not won a (Valley) game. They played free and loosey-goosey. We played more tight.”
ISU played a couple different zones which Lowery admitted his team didn’t prepare for. The Redbirds switched to a 1-3-1 zone after Carmichael’s basket put them ahead, 59-58. It was the 14th lead change of the game.
“We choose to play the defense we played about six times and had not been scored on,” said Jankovich. “We were 100 percent.”
After Fay’s 3-pointer, ISU’s Anthony Cousin drove inside and tried to pass to Ekey. The ball was knocked loose, and the Salukis’ Mykel Cleveland grabbed the ball and was fouled.
ISU had to foul twice more before SIU got in the bonus. Fay completed an 8-of-8 performance at the line with two free throws with 4.7 seconds left.
The Redbirds had lost all four previous Valley games by double-digit margins. They shot 50 percent from the field (24 of 48), while holding the Salukis to 41.7 percent (20 of 48) and forcing 18 turnovers.
“What I did like was this was the most poise we’ve shown all year and was one of the more intelligent games we’ve played all year,” said Jankovich. “We had fewer mental mistakes. I felt like we were an older team (more) than I’ve felt all year long. I hope that continues.”
Redbird Report Card
FRONT COURT - B-: Jackie Carmichael made big basket in final minute, while John Wilkins gave SIU fits. But ISU couldn't stop Carlton Fay and was outrebounded, 31-24.
BACKCOURT - B-: Anthony Cousin and Austin Hill held their own and combined to make 7-of-14 shots.
BENCH - C+: Alex Rubin came off bench for first time in more than year and didn't score. Tony Lewis contributed four points and five boards.
OVERALL - B-: ISU put itself in position to win game, which was vast improvement. That should help with two winnable home games this week.