NORMAL -- Illinois State's basketball team was thinking upset Saturday night at Redbird Arena. That didn't upset Missouri State, though. Far from it, actually.
"There's not a whole lot we haven't seen. We've been down 20 and up 20 and let teams come back," said Missouri State standout Kyle Weems. "We take pride in keeping our composure and even keel and keeping our focus on that prize, which is getting one more point than the other team."
Missouri State, trying to stay in a tie for the Missouri Valley Conference lead, went on a 9-0 run after ISU cut the deficit to 49-46 with 7:46. The Redbirds, despite a valiant effort by Austin Hill, couldn't mount another charge and suffered a 68-59 defeat before a crowd of 5,204.
"We made some defensive breakdowns and gave them easy baskets and they stretched the lead," said ISU coach Tim Jankovich. "You can't do that against a team as good as they are and as experienced and talented. They're in the hunt for the championship and deservedly so."
Hill scored a career-high 23 points to lead ISU (11-15, 3-12), which suffered its fourth straight loss. He was knocked in the head by an elbow earlier in the game and vomited on his way to the locker room afterwards.
"(Athletic trainer John) Munn probably will be mad, but I told him I was all right," after a first-half spill, said Hill. "I was still feeling a little out of it. But I had to play. You have to fight through some stuff."
Missouri State (20-6, 12-3) started the game tied with Wichita State for the league lead. The Shockers played a late game Saturday at Northern Iowa.
Weems, who is a leading contender for Valley Player of the Year, paced the Bears with 21 points. Center Will Creekmore added 16 and guard Nafis Ricks 12. Missouri State made up for a 36-28 rebounding deficit by scoring 21 points off 14 ISU turnovers.
"I thought our guys did a good job playing a physical brand of basketball," said Missouri State coach Cuonzo Martin. "Both teams played hard and competed. Even on the offensive end there was a lot of banging. I thought the refs did a great job allowing us to play. We found a way to get a win."
It was a ragged first half, which was partly attributed to 22 combined fouls. ISU got off to another slow start, making 1 of 9 shots in falling behind, 14-6, with 12:17 left.
The Redbirds finally got in some kind of offensive rhythm. ISU sank 7 of 14 shots to end the half and trailed 27-25 at the break.
"I felt we had a real opportunity to have a good lead at the half given they had some foul trouble," said Jankovich. "Instead of going in down two I thought we easily could be up six or seven."
The Bears immediately went inside after the intermission for two quick baskets to expand the lead to six.
The Redbirds got within 42-41 with 10:58 left as John Wilkins sank a 3-pointer from the corner. Wilkins' layup on a nice feed from Blake Mishler still had the Redbirds within striking distance at 49-46 with 7:46 left.
Then Missouri State put the game away. Creekmore and Nathan Scheer scored on layups, Adam Leonard hit a 3-pointer and Creekmore scored on another layup as the lead ballooned to 58-46.
ISU couldn't get closer than seven again.
"How they got us was in transition," said Hill, whose previous high game was 18 points. "We kept the game, close but just could not get stops on the defensive end. Everything is not going to go well offensively every night. It all depends how you play defense every night."
Hill was ISU's only player to score in double figures. The Redbirds shot 41.5 percent from the field (22 of 53), but were 3 of 14 on 3-pointers.
"Austin probably played his best all-around game since he's been here," said Jankovich. "Not just scoring, but I thought it was his best defensive game. He was turned up. He looked like a senior hearing the clock ticking."
ISU travels to face Creighton at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday in Omaha, Neb.
Redbird Report Card
FRONT COURT - C: ISU allowed Missouri State far too many point-blank shots. Jackie Carmichael never got anything going after scoring 22 in Springfield, Mo.
BACKCOURT - B-: Austin Hill put his head down and helped keep ISU in game with career-high 23 points. He needed help from other backcourt mates.
BENCH - B: Blake Mishler did another dependable job, while Tony Lewis had solid first half before playing little after break.
OVERALL - C+: ISU was able to stay with MVC co-leaders for 32 minutes, but wore down in last eight. Three of last four games on the road not a good sign.