NORMAL — Illinois State basketball public address announcer Steve Adams almost jumps out of his courtside seat when No. 3 makes a 3-pointer for the Redbirds.
“That’s a trey for Trey Blue!” has become Adams’ favorite saying.
Trey Blue loves swishing shots from beyond the arc. He has made a team-high nine 3-pointers thus far. Yet the 6-foot-3 sophomore guard would like to see himself and his teammates develop a more, well, “blue” collar attitude.
When ISU (6-2) entertains Ohio (4-3) at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at Redbird Arena, Blue said “toughness and tenacity and wanting to stop somebody and getting down and getting gritty” are a definite area for improvement.
“We have a lot more nastiness in us that we can get out that will help us with some rebounds or 50-50 plays and stuff like that,” said Blue.
The Redbirds may have made strides in that department in their last game. ISU held Montana State to five baskets in the final 13:51 to overcome an eight-point deficit in a 62-56 victory on Saturday.
ISU coach Tim Jankovich basically stuck with Blue, Anthony Cousin, Austin Hill, Tony Lewis and John Wilkins in crunch time in the second half. After sitting out last season as a transfer from Fordham, Blue has established himself as a valuable player heading into Missouri Valley Conference action in three weeks.
Blue is averaging 8.5 points, third best on the team. He leads ISU with a +9.68 plus/minus rating over 40 minutes.
“I’m impressed with his poise for a guy who did not play for a year,” said Jankovich, who gave Blue his first start against Montana State. “Having sat out for a year (as a player at Kansas State), I know what that’s like. He’s played at a very good pace. I like that about him.”
Blue found plenty to like about the team ISU played a week ago, although it was a painful lesson.
No. 24-ranked UNLV came into Redbird Arena and put a hurtin’ on the home team. The Runnin’ Rebels made it look easy in an 82-51 rout that was ISU’s worst home loss in Redbird Arena’s 21-year history.
“They were a veteran team and knew what they wanted to do and did it,” said Blue. “That just shows us what we need to be working towards, not just for the future, but I’m thinking towards the end of the season when we play Valley teams. We just need to mold together like they were.”
Nine ISU players have already scored in double figures. There’s good — and bad — in that statistic.
“To me that’s unbelievable, but at the same time it also tells you there’s a rollercoaster, a big up or down with individuals on this team,” said Jankovich. “I felt like that was how this was going to be. But we need to have more consistency from more guys. A little more consistency by a number of guys would really help this team in the short run.”
Smith doubtful: Sophomore guard Kenyon Smith missed the last game with a back injury and is “doubtful” against Ohio, said Jankovich.
Ohio vs. Illinois State
Time: 7:05 p.m.
Site: Redbird Arena, Normal
Radio: WJBC (AM-1230, FM-93.7)
Records: Ohio 4-3; Illinois State 6-2
Series history/last meeting: Ohio leads, 3-2 (Ohio won 75-57 on Dec. 15, 2009)
About the Bobcats: Ohio was picked to finish first in the six-team Mid-American Conference East Division and to win the league tournament in a preseason media poll ... The Bobcats earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2005 last season and upset Georgetown, 97-83, in the first round. It was Ohio's first NCAA tourney win since beating Illinois State in 1983 ... D.J. Cooper, a graduate of Seton Academy in Chicago who was recruited by ISU, was the MAC Freshman of the Year last season. Cooper was a preseason all-MAC first-team selection ... Freshman guard Nick Kellogg, who is averaging 7.4 points, is the son of CBS analyst Clark Kellogg. Nick Kellogg's brother, Alex, transferred to Ohio from Providence but quit two days before preseason practice started for personal reasons.
Next: Saturday vs. UIC, 7:05 p.m.
Prediction: Illinois State 68, Ohio 66
(Scoring, rebounding averages)
F - Ivo Baltic, 6-8, So. (9.0, 6.4); Reggie Keely, 6-8, So. (6.9, 4.9); Asown Sayles, 6-6, Sr. (3.9, 3.0); G - D.J. Cooper, 5-11, So. (18.4, 6.0); Tommy Freeman, 6-5, Sr. (8.7, 0.8).
F - Tony Lewis, 6-7, Sr. (7.6, 8.1); Jackie Carmichael, 6-9, So. (10.6, 4.3); G - Alex Rubin, 6-1, Sr. (5.6, 2.4); Trey Blue, 6-3, So. (8.5, 2.4); Austin Hill, 6-1, Sr. (11.6, 2.4).