NORMAL — For most of Saturday's game at Redbird Arena, it was Milik Yarbrough, Phil Fayne and Keyshawn Evans supplying the only offense for Illinois State's basketball team.
However, Yarbrough wasn't worried about his other teammates contributing in the scoring column.
“We appreciate them being there for us all the time and knowing we're the leaders and they'll follow us,” he said.
When Tulsa went ahead in the second half, it was Isaac Gassman and Madison Williams who rescued the Redbirds. Gassman's 3-pointer reclaimed the lead before Williams converted a four-point play that helped ISU to a 65-58 victory over Tulsa before a crowd of 5,803.
Yarbrough, who was knocked out of Wednesday's loss at Nevada with concussion symptoms, led the way with a season-high 22 points as the Redbirds improved to 4-4. Fayne added 17 points and eight rebounds, while Evans scored 12 points despite suffering a collarbone injury in a nasty fall in the second half.
“We have other guys capable of scoring,” said ISU coach Dan Muller. “Madison had nine, which is a lot. A couple guys are struggling with either confidence or understanding when to shoot what shot. I still think those guys will be scorers at some point. I'm ready whenever they are.”
ISU prevailed despite being outrebounded by 20 and shooting 38.6 percent from the field. The Redbirds did it by holding Tulsa to 24 percent shooting in the second half (35.8 percent overall) and forcing 21 turnovers, which they converted into 20 points.
Tulsa (4-4) took its first lead since early in the game when Lawson Korita made two free throws with 8:31 left to put the Golden Hurricane ahead, 49-47.
ISU's bench had not scored a point until Gassman sank a 3-pointer from the wing that started an 11-0 run for the Redbirds. Williams followed with another 3-pointer while being fouled and sank the free throw for a four-point play, and Tulsa couldn't recover.
“We really had to gut that out,” said Muller. “I think you saw some fatigue with our team due to a lot of travel over the first three weeks. We talked about finding a way. It wasn't pretty ... That was a tough win for this group, so I'm really proud of them.”
Yarbrough was cleared to play Friday night. He went through a 30-minute workout on his own and ran some sprints to get ready.
It was a far different picture than a week earlier. The junior forward played only 14 minutes and scored two points as Charleston Southern upset ISU in overtime. But Yarbrough turned himself around at Nevada, scoring 14 points in 10 minutes before taking a knee to his chin.
Yarbrough said he is starting to understand what Muller's expectations are of him.
“He's like a father figure to me. He's hard on me,” said Yarbrough, who also had six rebounds and four assists. “I have to see that he wants the best for me at all times. I can take the positive and run with it or be negative and he sits me down. I know my team needs me and these are my brothers. I'll do whatever to stay on the floor.”
Muller said it was evident from Yarbrough's energy, demeanor and body language he's been ready to compete this week.
“Milik is a great young man who is still understanding and figuring out how to go through a basketball season without his father,” said Muller, as former ISU standout Del Yarbrough died about a year ago. “It's just part of growing and understanding how to handle adversity, and we're trying to help him with that.”
Yarbrough's three-point play and fadeaway jumper gave ISU a 15-4 lead at the start. Tulsa cut the deficit to 36-32 at halftime on Corey Henderson's 3-pointer with a second left.
Even with their leading scorers, forward Junior Etou (10 points) and guard Sterling Taplin (five points) struggling, the Golden Hurricane stayed close thanks to a bench that produced 27 points. Fayne said ISU's effort in the second half, especially against the 235-pound Etou, reminded him of last season when the Redbirds were one of the nation's best defensive teams.
“He's very talented when he gets the ball down there,” said Fayne, who played 37 minutes. “One of our emphasis was as soon he got it to collapse on him and try to make him kick it out to the other players.”
Tulsa coach Frank Haith said his team's turnovers were the difference in losing to the Redbirds for the second time this season. ISU downed the Golden Hurricane, 84-68, two weeks ago in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic at Myrtle Beach.
“Illinois State played with great toughness down the stretch,” said Haith. “It was really disappointing we coughed the ball up 21 times. It's hard to win anywhere, particularly on the road, if you turn it over 21 times.”
The Redbirds go back on the road Wednesday when they face Brigham Young in an 8 p.m. (CST) game at Provo, Utah.