ROCHESTER, Mich. — Reggie Lynch insists his free throwing shooting, which has dropped to 40 percent, will improve. He’s also still trying to figure out how to avoid foul trouble which can sometimes be difficult when you’re 6-foot-10 and 252 pounds and trying to block almost every shot.
Yet there is one thing definitely not bothering the Illinois State freshman center as the Redbirds (5-4) return from a nine-day break to face Oakland (2-9) at 6 p.m. Monday at the Athletics Center O’rena.
“In all honesty, I like coming off the bench and seeing how the first couple minutes has gone and see how the defense is playing us so I know what to do once I’m in there,” said Lynch, who is averaging 7.6 points and 3.9 rebounds.
Lynch and 6-9 junior John Jones have formed a strong inside presence after ISU coach Dan Muller began to use a four-guard lineup following the indefinite suspension of junior forward Michael Middlebrooks. The Redbirds have reeled off four straight victories, including an 81-75 upset of then No. 25-ranked Dayton on Dec. 7.
The Redbirds completed final exams this past week and can concentrate on basketball for the next month. This is a busy week for ISU as the Redbirds come home to play Tennessee State at 7:05 p.m. Thursday and DePaul at 3:35 p.m. Sunday.
“I’m not too concerned about rust. I’m keeping my eye more on intensity level as opposed to rust,” said ISU coach Dan Muller. “This is a lot of practices in a row before a game and we’re coming off a big win. We’ve got to be able to handle it.”
Lynch has handled things remarkably well.
After leading Minnesota preps for the last two years in blocked shots at Edina High School, Lynch has transferred that skill to the Division I level. His 2.0 blocks per game are tied for the lead among Missouri Valley Conference players.
Offensively, Lynch has provided an unexpected boost. He has displayed an array of nifty moves in the post and is shooting a Valley-high 68.2 percent from the field (30 of 44).
“I’ve definitely gained a lot more skills and ways to score in the past eight months than I’ve ever gained in my life,” said Lynch, who has also added 20 pounds since arriving on campus in the summer. “Coach (Torrey) Ward is the post and big man coach, and he’s very good at what he does.”
Lynch, who wears a size-18 shoe, has enjoyed some good teachers in his family along the way. His father, John, played at Minnesota State. Meanwhile, his uncle, Kevin Lynch, was a standout player at the University of Minnesota who later played for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets in the early 1990s.
Muller said Lynch’s game “has really expanded” since school began in August.
“He just has a knack and some things you can’t coach,” said Muller. “He’s got to rebound it better and run harder and do a lot of things better, but he’s shooting (close to) 70 percent from the field.
“He just plays. He stays more even-keeled than most players or freshmen. If he misses a free throw he doesn’t pout about it.”
The Redbirds will need to look past Oakland’s record.
The Golden Grizzlies, who moved from the Summit League to the Horizon League this season, have played the toughest schedule in the country according to USA Today, losing to North Carolina, UCLA, Gonzaga, Indiana and Michigan State. Oakland led No. 5 Michigan State much of the way Saturday before falling, 67-63.
ISU will especially need to be aware of Travis Bader. Oakland’s 6-5 senior guard is 56 3-pointers away from breaking the NCAA career record of 457 set by J.J. Redick of Duke from 2002-06.
Back in action: Illinois State at Oakland
Time: 6 p.m. Monday
Broadcast: WJBC (1230-AM, 93.7-FM)