ST. LOUIS — Illinois State's basketball team has lost two games to Loyola this season. Ironically, both have come by the same 68-61 score.
However, all the Redbirds have to do is beat Loyola once to end a 20-year NCAA Tournament drought.
ISU immediately turned its attention to the Ramblers after surviving in overtime to oust Southern Illinois, 76-68, in a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament semifinal game Saturday at Scottrade Center.
“We have to make sure we guard and take care of the ball,” said ISU junior Keyshawn Evans. “They take care of the ball really well. We have to make sure we take care of the ball like they do … not beat ourselves with turnovers.”
ISU committed 38 turnovers in the two losses to Loyola.
The Redbirds should have gained some confidence during last Saturday's loss to the Ramblers in the regular-season finale in Chicago in spite of 20 turnovers.
ISU led by six with about seven minutes left and were within a possession in the final minute before Loyola's Clayton Custer hit a 3-pointer that broke the Redbirds.
“We thought the first time (on Jan. 10 at Redbird Arena) we didn’t play as hard as we could and the second time we let them get open 3s at the end of the game,” said ISU's Milik Yarbrough. “We said we were going to be back after the game when we lost to them (in Chicago). We just plan on coming out as hard as we can and attacking them and try to get the win.”
Evans, Phil Fayne and David Ndiaye were the only Redbirds on this season's team who played meaningful minutes last year when ISU lost to Wichita State, 71-51, in the championship game.
“You know it's a championship game, but then again, it's still a game, and you just got to keep your composure,” said Fayne. “Your preparation for the game has to be great and everything.”
Technically speaking: William Tinsley continued his late-season shooting surge with 14 points against SIU, making 4 of 7 attempts outside the arc, while also grabbing nine rebounds to share team-high honors with Fayne.
But Tinsley was whistled for a technical foul by referee Gerry Pollard late in the first half. That turned out to be Tinsley's third foul. He picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, but was able to avoid his fifth until overtime.
“I was just being a competitor,” said Tinsley of the technical foul. “Just being a competitor, the competitiveness in me and just being dumb. So it was my fault.”
SIU's Tyler Smithpeters also drew a technical foul in the same sequence.
The Valley released a statement after the game which said: “Both student-athletes were assessed a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct (taunting). In accordance with NCAA policies (and a recent point of emphasis), there is zero tolerance for unsportsmanlike conduct from coaches and student-athletes, and the technical fouls were an enforcement of that rule.”
Back on Sunday again: Maybe the sixth time will be the charm.
ISU will be making its sixth appearance in the MVC Tournament championship game in the last 11 years. The Redbirds have come up short every time in an effort to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 when ISU coach Dan Muller was a senior forward.
ISU lost two championship games in overtime to Northern Iowa (2009) and Creighton (2012). The Redbirds have also fallen to Drake (2008), UNI (2015) and Wichita State (2017).
The Redbirds are 4-8 overall in title games. ISU won in 1983, 1990, 1997 and 1998. The Redbirds have never won the title as the No. 3 seed, which they are this year.
ISU has never played Loyola, which joined the league in 2012, in the MVC tourney.
Mullins will win: There will be a happy Mullins brother at the end of Sunday's game. Brendan Mullins is an ISU assistant coach in his first year with the Redbirds, while his brother, Bryan, is an assistant with Loyola.