NORMAL — The exclamation point came when MiKyle McIntosh soared down the baseline to dunk a lob pass from Paris Lee with 18 seconds left.
By then it was time to move over, Wichita State. There had been a change at the top of the Missouri Valley Conference’s basketball standings. The Shockers got an up-close look of the new leaders Saturday.
For the first time since winning its last Valley regular-season title in 1998, Illinois State sits alone in first place in the league. McIntosh scored 20 points, while Deontae Hawkins added 14 points and eight rebounds as the Redbirds earned a 76-62 victory over Wichita State before a season-high crowd of 9,078 at rowdy Redbird Arena.
“It was a great feeling. I actually told him to pass to me because I knew they would all be trying to press up and wouldn’t be looking for it,” said McIntosh, who also had five rebounds and four assists. “I told him when you get past everybody I’ll be running in there for a lob.”
ISU coach Dan Muller was a standout player on that 1998 squad which won ISU’s last Valley title. More than anyone, he knows it is more difficult staying in first place than getting there.
“You’re the hunted now,” said Muller. “That’s not a place our guys are used to experiencing. We’ll address it and talk about it before a big rivalry game Wednesday (at Bradley). But this team has been so mature the last month-and-a-half, not that it was bad before then, but I have a lot of confidence in those guys in that locker room keeping solid, knowing why we’re playing well and staying committed to that.”
Lee contributed 10 points and six assists, while DJ Clayton and Keyshawn Evans were huge off the bench with 11 and 10 points, respectively, as ISU improved to 14-4 overall and 6-0 in the league with its seventh straight win.
"It feels good," said Hawkins of being in first alone. "We have to keep playing our basketball knowing it starts at the defensive end and knowing our offense will come."
ISU beat the Shockers for the third time in the last four meetings between what is turning into the Valley’s best and most heated rivalry.
“If anyone wants to take it as a message they can, but we just came out here and played basketball like we always do,” said McIntosh.
The Redbirds shot 54.2 percent from the field, sinking 10 of 22 outside the arc. Wichita State, which went 7 of 21 on 3-pointers, held a slim 35-34 rebounding advantage.
The biggest crowd at Redbird Arena since Feb. 14, 2015, when 9,345 came to see Wichita State, saw the Redbirds continue their stellar defense of the last four weeks. Wichita State shot 34.9 percent from the field as ISU switched to a 2-3 zone late in the first half and seized momentum for its third victory in the last four meetings against the Shockers.
The Shockers came into the game averaging 83.4 points overall and 87.4 points in league play.
“We continue to guard at a high level,” said Muller, as ISU also had eight blocks and nine steals. “A lot of guys stepped up and made plays offensively. There were a couple things we got hurt with, but in the end we made plays.”
Muller called the crowd “unbelievable.”
“I especially want to thank the students who came back,” he said. “I know it’s a little bit early (the second semester starts Tuesday), but they were awesome. That was a fun night against a really, really good team.”
Wichita State (15-4, 5-1) had not been out of first since the start of the 2013-14 season and had gone 56-3 the last three-plus seasons coming into the game. Forward Darral Willis Jr. and redshirt freshman guard Landry Shamet paced the Shockers with 14 points each.
“Congratulations to the Redbirds. They obviously played better and deserved to win,” said Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. “They had a better game plan and they executed it better. We will need to figure out how to score the ball and hold them under 76 points. That doesn’t travel very well.”
After ISU ended the half on a 10-2 run to take a 36-27 lead, the Shockers roared back.
Markis McDuffie, who was scoreless in seven minutes of the first half, banked in a 3-pointer to start the second half. He sank a tough inside shot before draining a 27-footer as the shot clock was expiring as ISU’s lead was quickly down to 37-35 just over two minutes after the break.
McIntosh, who picked up his third foul 24 seconds into the half, returned. He made two shots while Clayton also had two baskets as the Redbirds led, 47-42, with 12:06 left.
That was part of a 11-2 run, which was capped by Hawkins’ 3-pointer from in front of the ISU bench on a feed from Lee to put ISU ahead, 54-44, with 9:27 left. When Marshall called timeout 14 seconds later, the crowd was in a frenzy.
However, McIntosh was soon back on the bench. He was called for a charging foul, negating a dunk by Phil Fayne, with 7:23 left and ISU holding a 56-49 lead. When Willis’ 16-footer brought the Shockers within 56-53, Muller reinserted McIntosh with 6:05 left.
“I don’t change my mindset at all (with four fouls),” said McIntosh. “In previous years I would have had to play minimal at best. I’ve been working on it a lot. I just go out there and keep playing, realizing how I got fouls and keep being aggressive.”
The Redbirds went to their 3-point attack as Lee, Hawkins and McIntosh sank shots outside the arc, giving ISU a 65-55 advantage with 4:10 left.
That was as close as the Shockers got as ISU won its 15th straight at Redbird Arena, the second longest streak in the building’s 28-year history. The record is 17 between the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons.
ISU’s seven-game winning streak also is the program’s longest since winning seven in a row to start the 2009-10 season.
A pair of 3-pointers from Tony Wills, who had made 6 of 26 outside arc in the last seven games, got the crowd revved up early. Lee’s nifty reverse layup put ISU ahead, 11-5, with 15:41 left in the first half.
Wichita State took its first lead at 12-11 on Shaquille Morris’ short turnaround back shot. The Shockers led 17-16 before Hawkins scored on two jump hooks and a 3-pointer in a 14-8 run to give ISU a 30-25 lead with 4:21 left.
Evans then took over. He sank two 3-pointers in the last three minutes, the second with 21 seconds left as ISU took a 36-27 halftime lead. It was the Shockers’ second lowest halftime point total of the season after 17 points against Louisville.
The Redbirds made 6-of-15 attempts from 3-point range in the first half compared to the Shockers’ 2 of 8. Wichita State shot 34.5 percent from the field while ISU was 48.1 percent.
ISU’s switch to a 2-3 zone was a key. Wichita State made one of its final 10 shots over the last eight minutes of the half after the Redbirds’ defensive switch.
“I planned to play a decent amount of zone,” said Muller. “There’s games our zone has been great. We work on it a lot like we do our man. We’re just locked in defensively now. Guys talk about it, communicate, they’re holding each other accountable and really execute the game plan. When we were in man it’s not like they were killing us, but zone got us going offensively more than anything.”
The Redbirds held their last eight opponents to 33.4 percent field goal shooting and came into the game sixth nationally in defensive field goal percentage at 37.7 percent.