NORMAL — Jackie Carmichael knocked teammate John Wilkins to the floor in order to get a rebound Sunday. That should have told everyone at Redbird Arena something.
The senior forward wasn’t about to let Illinois State’s basketball team fall victim to another second-half meltdown at home.
Carmichael scored a career-high 30 points as the Redbirds pulled away in the last five minutes to beat Morgan State, 87-68. A crowd of 4,911 was relieved it didn’t see a replay of a loss to Wyoming on Dec. 4 in which ISU squandered a 19-point second-half lead.
This time, the Redbirds (7-3) were ahead 57-32 before Morgan State cut the deficit to 70-60 with 7:06 left.
“We got out of our rhythm and out of what we were doing well, moving the ball around,” said Carmichael. “It all turned around and luckily only lasted a couple minutes. But we can’t have stretches like that when it comes to (Missouri Valley) conference play.”
The Redbirds used some full-court pressure and also dropped into a 2-3 zone defense to regain the momentum. Bryant Allen fed Carmichael a lob for a fast-break dunk that started ISU on a 13-5 run to close the game.
“I’ll take a whole bunch of 19-point wins,” said ISU coach Dan Muller. “It did get a little sloppy there in the second half, but we had some guys who fought back and had great positive energy going into that little stretch where some guys made some big plays and we finished strong.”
Jon Ekey contributed 18 points, while Allen added 13 as the Redbirds shot 50.9 percent from the field (29 of 57). ISU also tied a Redbird arena record with 17 steals, which it first set against Missouri-St. Louis in 2007.
“We do have to learn from some negative experiences, which was Wyoming,” said Muller. “But we had guys with completely different body language and emotional energy during that stretch where it didn’t feel anything like Wyoming.”
Allen scored nine points in the first half as ISU came out sharp and raced to a 47-29 lead. The junior guard had a career-high 30 points against Alabama-Birmingham on Nov. 23, but in the next four games combined for 12 points on 5-of-27 shooting.
“That’s just part of basketball. You’re going to have those games where you don’t hit shots,” said Allen. “You just have to find a way whether getting extra shots up (in practice) or letting your defense win it. But to see those shots go in and get out of a slump was a good feeling.”
Guard Justin Black, who scored 21 points, helped rally Morgan State (3-4). Black scored on a couple drives and also knocked down a couple 3-pointers as the Bears closed the gap to 10.
But Morgan State, which committed 24 turnovers, never could stop Carmichael.
“My team trusted me to kind of put everyone on my back and really take control of the game,” said Carmichael, who was 9-of-15 from the field and 12-of-13 at the line. “I’m blessed to have these guys on my side.”
Muller said he wasn’t surprised about Carmichael’s night, which also included nine rebounds.
“We’ve been working on a few things with Jackie offensively the past few weeks, and he’s really starting to pick them up and play at a high level in the block,” said the ISU coach.
Except for three rebounds it allowed Morgan State off its own missed free throws Muller said he was happy with ISU’s rebounding, especially considering the Bears’ size that included 7-foot-2 Ian Chiles. The Redbirds fought to a 34-all draw after losing the battle of the boards in four of the last five games.
Muller wasn’t too worried about Tyler Brown, who had a season-low two points in 18 minutes. Brown, who was ISU’s leading scorer with a 19.2 average, only played six minutes in the second half.
“He wasn’t ill. He didn’t have it,” said Muller. “Clearly his energy level and ball care was not great. Tyler’s been so good he’s afforded one of those nights. He didn’t have a night where he was helping us, so I wanted other guys to step in and make plays.”
Muller said he expects Brown to be his usual self when the Redbirds travel to face Dayton (8-2) at 6 p.m. Wednesday.