NORMAL — Those walking away from Redbird Arena on Saturday night probably wondered what was wrong with Illinois State’s basketball team.
Senior Alex Rubin and his teammates decided to concentrate on what was right – namely, a defensive effort that held Louisiana-Monroe to 36.4 percent shooting.
ISU nearly squandered a 20-point lead before getting a key defensive stop in the closing seconds to beat Louisiana-Monroe, 59-55, in the second round of the Global Sports Roundball Classic before a relieved crowd of 4,395.
Fred Brown, a transfer from Kansas State, drove hard to the basket while being closely guarded by Justin Clark with ISU clinging to a 56-54 lead. Jackie Carmichael came over to help as Brown missed a running jumper with five seconds left.
“We needed to get a stop and we got it,” said Rubin. “I think that’s something to feel great about.”
Rubin got the rebound off Brown’s miss and was fouled. He made one of two free throws with 3.5 seconds left. After his miss, Rubin fouled Tommie Sykes who also split a pair of free throws before ISU’s Austin Hill sank two free throws for the final margin.
ISU (4-1) survived despite making only 2-of-14 shots from 3-point range, both by Trey Blue. On the other side, Louisiana-Monroe (2-4) went 7-of-12 from outside the arc in the second half and 9-of-21 overall.
Louisiana-Monroe coach Keith Richard called a timeout with 13 seconds left and decided to go for the tie.
“He (Brown) did the right thing and punched it, but in retrospect I wish I would have told him to just shoot the 3 and win or lose we’ll go home,” said Richard, who used five players the entire second half.
Hill made his first start of the season and scored 16 points for the second straight night to pace ISU. He had nine straight points for the Redbirds midway in the second half after Louisiana-Monroe cut the deficit to 41-38.
Carmichael added 14 points for the Redbirds, with 11 of those coming when ISU bolted to a 29-9 lead with 3:14 left in the first half. But the Redbirds’ recent struggles from outside the arc continued. ISU has made 10-of-46 3-point attempts the last three games.
“We’ve hit a patch here where we’re struggling to shoot the ball. It’s that simple,” said ISU coach Tim Jankovich. “When you don’t shoot the ball it magnifies any other error you might make.”
Louisiana-Monroe’s shooting percentage was the low for an ISU opponent this season. It came after South Dakota shot 46.4 percent Friday night during the Redbirds’ 81-63 victory.
“I’m proud of the team tonight. I really am,” said Jankovich. “I didn’t feel we had the right mindset (Friday) night on the defensive end. We can never be in a trade-basket mentality. We’ve got to get someone in the 30s (shooting percentage).”
Hill is confident ISU’s 3-point woes will end soon, perhaps today when the Redbirds close the tourney at 3:35 p.m. against Jacksonville State.
“We went cold,” said Hill. “If we stick to our principles and play hard defensively we know the offense will come eventually.”
Lawrence Gilbert, a 6-7 forward who played as a freshman at Miami (Fla.), scored a game-high 17 points for the Warhawks. Brown added 13.
Jacksonville State 64, South Dakota 56: Nick Murphy scored 12 points to pace Jacksonville State (2-4) in the second game. South Dakota (1-4) received a game-high 14 points from Charlie Westbrook.
Redbird report card
FRONT COURT – C-: Jackie Carmichael dominated early, but cooled down. ISU was outrebounded, 37-34, by a smaller team and had trouble finding Lawrence Gilbert on the perimeter.
BACKCOURT – D+: The Redbirds’ struggles on 3-pointers continued and nearly cost them. Austin Hill took over in second half and basically kept the Redbirds from losing the lead.
BENCH – C: With Hill and Tony Lewis in starting lineup, bench scored only 15 points. Trey Blue made the Redbirds’ only two 3-pointers.
OVERALL – C-: Two out of five games have seen ISU nearly give up huge leads. The Redbirds can’t afford to do this against better competition or will pay for it. John Wilkins plays today and not a moment too soon.