NORMAL -- Alex Rubin looked around an empty Redbird Arena on Monday.
"My last practice before my last home game," said Illinois State's senior guard.
Rubin has known plenty of highs during his Redbird basketball career. He surely didn't expect his Senior Night to turn out quite like this.
ISU (11-17) meets archrival Bradley (10-18) at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday at Redbird Arena with the loser being assured the No. 10 seed in next week's Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The teams are tied for ninth place in the Valley with 3-13 marks.
Rubin is the only four-year player to be honored Tuesday. ISU's four other seniors -- Tony Lewis, Austin Hill, Blake Mishler and Matt Coates -- all came in from other places.
Only Rubin knows what it feels like to get to the cusp of the NCAA Tournament before twice falling short in the Valley tourney championship game. The Redbirds went 71-31 in Rubin's first three years at ISU.
But after going 8-3 in the nonconference portion of the schedule this season, ISU went on an eight-game losing streak and now has dropped six in a row.
"I just assumed if we worked hard like we did the past three summers before that, do everything right and play together as a team, we were going to succeed," said Rubin. "It's hard to believe, but this is a team that works togetherness the best, on and off the court, we like each other the most and up to now it hasn't translated into wins."
But Jankovich believes this group has been victorious in other ways.
"These guys have come in with a tremendous attitude and energy and togetherness throughout a very, very difficult run," said Jankovich. "A lot of that is due to his (Rubin's) leadership and a good part is a lot of guys on this team have good character. I certainly appreciate those types of things."
Jankovich recalled a one-on-one talk he had with Rubin early in his freshman season. Actually, it was more of a one-way conversation.
"I explained, fairly pointedly, the way he was going about it was not really working for him," said Jankovich. "Being the competitor he is, he transformed right there and became, over his career, one of the tremendous competitors I've been around. He probably gets more out of his talent than anyone you could hope for."
Rubin was recruited and signed by then-ISU coach Porter Moser out of Plymouth, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis. He helped Armstrong High School to the Class 4A Minnesota state championship game and was a finalist for Minnesota's Mr. Basketball Award.
Moser was fired after the 2006-07 season, leaving Rubin in limbo. But, after talking and meeting with Jankovich, Rubin decided to stay with ISU.
Rubin remembers his transition moment with Jankovich and feels "fortunate I got it so soon."
"I don't think necessarily I had a bad attitude. I think naïve is the perfect way to describe it," said Rubin. "Everyone hopes when they come in they'll play 35 minutes and score 20 points a game. It doesn't necessarily work like that."
Rubin has never been a big scorer with ISU, totaling 316 career points heading into Tuesday. However, he leads the team in taking charges, floor burns and hustle plays.
His teammates also count on Rubin, who started 46 straight games between last season and this season, for moral support.
"He was one of the first people who gave me that lift last year," said sophomore guard Justin Clark of a season-long shooting slump. "He said he went through the same thing as a shooter. He's always had my back."
This is the first time Bradley has been ISU's opponent on Senior Night since the 1981-82 season when the Redbirds joined the Valley.
Bradley senior Dodie Dunson, a Bloomington High School graduate, missed the Braves' 81-75 victory at Tennessee-Martin on Saturday. Dunson bruised his knee in practice two days earlier. He will be a game-time decision.
"He looks pretty good," said Bradley coach Jim Les on Monday. "He's still day to day, but every day seems to be a little bit better."
Bradley vs. Illinois State
Time: 7:05 p.m.
Site: Redbird Arena, Normal
Television: Comcast Chicago
Radio: WJBC (AM-1230, FM-93.7)
Records: Bradley 10-18, 3-13 MVC; Illinois State 11-17, 3-13
Series history/last meeting: Bradley leads, 61-50 (ISU won, 79-78, in overtime on Jan. 26, 2011).
About the Braves: Bradley has lost four straight games to ISU for the first time since the Redbirds ran off a seven-game winning streak in the series from March 1982 to January 1985 … Andrew Warren leads the Valley in scoring, free throws made (129) and is tied for the lead in 3-pointers made (64). The only players to lead the Valley in 3-pointers made and free throws made in the same season were Bradley’s Hersey Hawkins (1987-88) and Evansville’s Marcus Wilson (1998-99). Warren is the Valley’s career active scoring leader with 1,546 points … Jordan Prosser, a Eureka High School graduate, registered his first double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) in Saturday’s 81-75 victory at Tennessee-Martin. Walt Lemon Jr. added a season-high 20 points after scoring 11 points in the previous six games.
Next: Saturday at Evansville, 2:05 p.m.
Prediction: Illinois State 66, Bradley 63
(Scoring, rebounding averages)
F – Will Egolf, 6-8, Jr. (8.0, 4.0); C – Jordan Prosser, 6-9, Fr. (5.5, 5.4); G – Andrew Warren, 6-6, Sr. (18.9, 5.4); Walt Lemon Jr., 6-3, Fr. (6.6, 2.5); Dyricus Simms-Edwards, 6-3, So. (9.8, 3.0).
F – Tony Lewis, 6-7, Sr. (6.9, 6.4); Jon Ekey, 6-7, Fr. (4.7, 4.2); C – Blake Mishler, 6-8, Sr. (4.6, 2.4); G –Austin Hill, 6-1, Sr. (10.6, 2.5); Alex Rubin, 6-1, Sr. (3.4, 1.8).