WICHITA, Kan. — Things have not gone according to plan for Illinois State’s basketball team this week because of the blizzard.
The same could be said for sophomore guard Trey Blue’s season.
ISU made the necessary adjustments to get to Northern Iowa on Wednesday. Blue has done the same on the court in the past couple weeks to become an integral part of the Redbirds’ rotation heading into Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. game against Missouri Valley Conference-leading Wichita State at Koch Arena.
“I started watching more and more tape and seeing the mistakes I was making,” said Blue, who sat out last season after transferring from Fordham. “I understood I needed to focus a lot more. It was a mental thing being in the right position, staying focused the whole possession on defense. I think I’ve gotten a lot better.”
As Blue’s defense has improved, his offense did the same.
The 6-foot-3 graduate of Thornwood High School in suburban South Holland has averaged 8.0 points in the last five games, making 15-of-30 field goal attempts and 6-of-14 shots outside the arc. Blue has scored in double figures in three of the last four games, including 13 points in Wednesday’s 53-51 loss to UNI.
ISU (11-12, 3-9 Valley) will need Blue at his best to have any chance of upsetting Wichita State (19-4, 10-2), which has regained the league’s top spot with six games left.
“He maintained a great attitude and determination throughout not playing well or not playing much at all,” said ISU coach Tim Jankovich. “Through that, his determination grew rather than shrunk. To me, that is one of the great signs you can find in an athlete.
“When things are not going well, you can go either way. He worked harder and has been more determined. I’m really proud of him.”
After scoring 14 points in two of his first three games in November, Blue’s minutes began to decrease. It got so bad he was held out of games against UIC and North Carolina Wilmington before Valley action began.
Not until three weeks ago at Drake did Blue finally begin to work his way back into Jankovich’s good graces.
“It was hard. I’ve never been in that position before,” said Blue. “I did a lot of talking with God, first and foremost, and I just made up my mind I wasn’t going to stop. I still have a long time here. I know I can play at this level and with this program.
“I put a lot more work in on my own, coming into the gym, watching film and seeing what I needed to do to help this team.”
Blue played only four minutes and didn’t score on Jan. 7 when Wichita State easily beat the Redbirds, 65-51, in Normal. That was part of ISU’s 0-8 start in the Valley.
The Redbirds recovered with three straight wins before the disappointing loss on Wednesday heading into arguably the toughest environment in the Valley in sold-out Koch Arena.
“They are at the top of the league and probably don’t think much of us. They beat us real bad,” said Blue. “We have a different mindset than the first time we played them. We’re in a little bit of a hole and fighting our way out.”
ISU didn’t arrive home until noon Thursday after busing back from Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Redbirds took off Thursday and practiced in Normal on Friday afternoon before flying to Wichita.
ISU-Fresno change: ISU’s game next season at Fresno State has been moved to Nov. 12 instead of the originally scheduled Dec. 3, ISU announced Friday.
The nonconference game will be played at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif.
Illinois State vs. Wichita State
Time: 7:05 p.m.
Site: Koch Arena, Wichita, Kan.
Radio: WJBC (AM-1230, FM-93.7)
Records: ISU 11-12, 3-9 MVC; Wichita State 19-4, 10-2
Series history/last meeting: ISU leads, 36-30 (Wichita State won 65-51 on Jan. 7, 2011)
About the Shockers: Wichita State is a school-record 5-0 in the Valley on the road. The Shockers’ league losses have come at home to Missouri State (59-56) and Northern Iowa (77-74). Wichita State has won its 10 league games by an average margin of 15.1 points … Toure’ Murry became the 40th player in school history in top the 1,000-point milestone last week. J.T. Durley (1,185 points) reached that honor earlier this season … Wichita State is shooting 73.2 percent at the free throw line, threatening last season’s school-record of 74.6 percent. Junior guard Joe Ragland is the team leader at 90.9 percent (30 of 33).
Next: Wednesday vs. Indiana State, 7:05 p.m.
Prediction: Wichita State 72, Illinois State 60
(Scoring, rebounding averages)
F – John Wilkins, 6-9, So. (8.7, 4.4); Jon Ekey, 6-7, Fr. (4.7, 4.3); C — Blake Mishler, 6-8, Sr. (5.0, 2.3); G – Austin Hill, 6-1, Sr. (9.6, 2.4); Anthony Cousin, 5-11, So. (7.3, 1.4).
F – Gabe Blair, 6-8, Sr. (6.4, 6.0); J.T. Durley, 6-8, Sr. (11.9, 4.7); G – Graham Hatch, 6-4, Sr. (5.3, 2.7); Toure’ Murry, 6-5, Jr. (9.6, 4.8); David Kyles, 6-4, Jr. (11.0, 2.9).