NORMAL — Illinois State sophomore guard Anthony Cousin is sick. The same goes for Redbird coach Tim Jankovich, his assistants and the other players.
Athletic trainer John Munn can’t hand out a pill to cure the ailment running through the locker room ahead of Saturday’s 6:05 p.m. game against Evansville at Redbird Arena.
ISU is sick of losing.
“It’s constantly in my head throughout class and during the day,” said Cousin. “It’s hard to get out of your head, especially the record. I know we’re a better team than this. I’m confused what’s going on. We have to do something to change it.”
ISU tries to snap a six-game losing streak which has dropped its record to 8-9, the first time it has been under .500 since the end of the 2006-07 season. The Redbirds are 0-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time in eight years.
It might feel like a year since the Redbirds last tasted victory. Actually, it happened in 2010. It’s been 26 days since ISU went on the road to beat North Carolina Wilmington in overtime.
This is the latest the Redbirds have started a calendar year without a victory since Jan. 18, 2004.
“If you didn’t know what happened to us the last three weeks and hung around, there are no issues,” said Jankovich. “There is no quit and everyone has good attitudes. But they’re human, too. Enthusiasm and confidence are a pretty big part of athletics, and ours has been dinged up.”
The Redbirds have held at least a five-point lead in five of six games during the current drought. ISU led Southern Illinois by a point with less than 20 seconds left Sunday. The Redbirds enjoyed a five-point lead with six minutes to go against Northern Iowa on Wednesday.
“It’s not like we’re getting blown out,” said Cousin. “It’s one or two shots.”
“We’re two possessions away from a two-game winning streak,” said Jankovich. “That doesn’t get you anything, but it shows progress anyway and means we’re (headed) in the right direction. But it also doesn’t mean that happens every day for the rest of the year, either.”
Jankovich said he has never experienced a losing streak like this in 28 years of being a college coach. Cousin remembers a four- or five-game losing streak during high school in Anchorage, Ala., but not six straight.
“You make sure you control the things you can control, and we’re constantly talking to our guys about that and also point out the positive things that are taking place,” said Jankovich. “You can start to feel like everything is negative, and that is always counterproductive — always.”
Watching a few more shots go in, especially from 3-point range, would remedy many of ISU’s problems. The Redbirds typically go through three- or four-minute stretches without scoring during a game.
Maybe playing Evansville (8-8, 2-4) will cure the Redbirds. ISU has won eight straight from the Purple Aces the last four seasons. The Redbird first-year players will need to fight through the numerous screens that Coach Marty Simmons’ team sets.
“I told our guys they’ll get screened more in this game than four other games put together,” said Jankovich.
ISU also is trying to avoid its first four-game home losing streak since the final four games of the 2004-05 season.
Evansville vs. Illinois State
Time: 6:05 p.m.
Site: Redbird Arena, Normal
Pregame chat: 5 p.m. www.pantagraph.com/isuchat
Television: Fox Sports Midwest, Comcast SportsNet Plus
Radio: WJBC (AM-1230, FM-93.7)
Records: Evansville 8-8, 2-4 MVC; Illinois State 8-9, 0-6
Series history/last meeting: ISU leads, 28-13 (ISU won 70-56 on Jan. 13, 2010)
About the Purple Aces: Evansville was picked to finish 10th in the Missouri Valley Conference in a preseason poll of league coaches, media and sports information directors … The Purple Aces are 1-6 on the road, with the lone victory coming at then No. 23-ranked Butler, 71-68, in overtime on Nov. 27 ... Sophomore guard Ned Cox is averaging 9.7 points off the bench in Valley play. He scored a team-high 15 points in Wednesday’s 67-51 victory over Drake … Colt Ryan is the Valley’s leader in 3-point percentage at .458 (38 of 83). He made six 3-pointers against Middle Tennessee on Nov. 24.
Next: Tuesday at Drake, 7:05 p.m.
Prediction: Illinois State 65, Evansville 62
(Scoring, rebounding averages)
F – Kenneth Harris, 6-6, Jr. (10.3, 7.4); C — Pieter van Tongeren, 6-10, Sr. (6.6, 2.7); G – Kavon Lacey, 6-0, Sr. (4.2, 2.3); Colt Ryan, 6-5, So. (15.9, 3.1); Denver Holmes, 6-4, Jr. (6.7, 1.8).
F – John Wilkins, 6-9, So. (8.7, 4.7); Jon Ekey, 6-7, Fr. (4.6, 4.1); C — Jackie Carmichael, 6-9, So. (11.1, 4.7); G – Austin Hill, 6-1, Sr. (9.6, 2.2); Anthony Cousin, 5-11, So. (6.7, 1.5).