ST. LOUIS — To put it politely, Phil Fayne sometimes struggles with his free throw shooting. That was rearing its ugly head at the most inopportune time during Saturday's tense Missouri Valley Conference Tournament semifinal game.
So when Fayne, who had missed his previous two free throws, approached the line with 1:14 left and Illinois State trailing by a point, Redbird coach Dan Muller had a little chat with his junior forward.
“It's not a big deal,” said Muller. “I just talked about shots he shot and the confidence he should have and just told him something to relax.”
After one more miss, Fayne turned into a free throw-making machine.
Fayne sank his last eight free throws, including seven in overtime. He scored ISU's first 11 points in the extra five-minute session and finished with a career-high 26 points as the Redbirds turned back Southern Illinois, 76-68, before a Scottrade Center crowd of 8,415.
The victory, ISU's fifth in overtime this season, advanced the Redbirds to their second straight Arch Madness championship game and third in the last four years. Third-seeded ISU (18-14) takes on No. 1 Loyola (27-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday in a game which will be televised on CBS.
William Tinsley added 14 points, making 4 of 7 3-point attempts, while Matt Hein added a valuable 12 points off the bench for the Redbirds. Milik Yarbrough scored 11 points and Keyshawn Evans 10. ISU survived despite shooting 36.4 percent from the field by making 27 of 37 free throws.
And no one did that better than Fayne, who came into the game shooting 49.3 percent at the line. He also set career highs in free throws made (12) and attempted (17).
“It's just my teammates kept talking to me throughout the stretch like, ‘Phil, we believe in you. You're here for a reason,’” said Fayne. “We work on this day in and day out at practice. You shoot 100 free throws at every practice and everything.”
Fayne's free throw tied the game at 56-all with 1:14 left in regulation. Neither team scored again. ISU had a chance at the end, but Armon Fletcher slid over and blocked Yarbrough's driving attempt to send the Redbirds into their sixth OT this season, tied for the most in the nation.
With SIU's 6-foot-10 Kavion Pippen having fouled out late in regulation, the Redbirds went to the 6-9 Fayne every time in OT.
Fayne's three baskets and five free throws put ISU ahead, 67-61. His teammates then sank six of seven attempts at the line before Fayne put the finishing touches on the win with another pair of free throws with 19 seconds left.
“My teammates put faith in me and they kept feeding me the ball,” said Fayne. “They depended on me to score … so I knew I had to do it for them and everything.”
Sean Lloyd and Fletcher paced second-seeded SIU (20-13), which lost to the Redbirds by the same exact overtime score in Normal on Feb. 8, with 15 points. Pippen, the nephew of NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, had seven points and 10 rebounds before fouling out with 1:14 left.
The only player SIU had to guard Fayne in overtime was 6-7 senior Jonathan Wiley, who is limited by a knee injury that will require surgery.
“The game was over when KP went out. I have no magic wands,” said SIU coach Barry Hinson. “I was wanting Harry Potter to show up and could go … you're bigger. I just looked at the staff on the bench and I thought, 'I'm sorry, there's nothing else we can do.' It's just one of those deals.”
SIU shot 40 percent from the field, but was only 13 of 22 at the line and made two less 3-pointers than the Redbirds. ISU also grabbed a 47-35 rebounding advantage.
Muller tried to explain ISU's success in overtime games this season.
“I think just the experience of being in them, been in a lot of close games. Then you get a little confidence and that can snowball some,” he said.
ISU's seven-point halftime lead was quickly overtaken after the intermission, thanks to Marcus Bartley. The SIU junior guard, a former teammate of Yarbrough at Saint Louis, played two minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls.
Bartley sank four baskets, the last two long 3-pointers, to give SIU a 45-44 lead with 11:56 left. The Salukis took their biggest lead at 47-44 after Aaron Cook's 15-foot jumper before Tinsley connected on his fourth 3 for a 47-all tie with 9:43 left.
Evans' 3-pointer, Yarbrough's inside shot and Fayne's dunk gave the Redbirds a 54-49 lead. SIU went more than five minutes without scoring until Armon Fletcher's 3-pointer cut ISU's lead to 54-52 with 3:38 left.
SIU took a 56-55 lead on Cook's driving layup with 1:59 left. After Fayne tied the score and Yarbrough's attempt was blocked, the Salukis took a brief 59-58 lead on Fletcher's 3-pointer with 3:51 left before ISU took control.
“We had to gut it out, as usual,” said Muller. “You feel like you didn't play our best, but we found a way to win. Phil was obviously huge down the stretch. A lot of guys made big plays.”