NORMAL — In a bruising affair at Redbird Arena on Thursday, the pursuit of missed shots frequently sent bodies tumbling to the floor.
Yet when those loose basketballs eventually found a home, it was usually in the grasp of a Redbird.
Illinois State battled doggedly on the boards, earning a 47-25 rebounding advantage that led directly to a 62-47 nonconference victory over Southern Illinois Edwardsville before a crowd of 782.
"What I really could not be more proud of is the way we rebounded the ball," ISU coach Kristen Gillespie said. "We've been challenging our team every day to play with that toughness. To outrebound that team by 22 is pretty special."
ISU (3-2) moved to 3-0 at home and is over .500 after five games for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
"This week we spent a lot of time off the court just talking about roles and who we could become," said Gillespie. "I think today you saw us take a big step forward into the team we are becoming."
The Cougars slipped to 3-2 while being held 19 points under their scoring average and shooting 26.6 percent from the field.
"Once again, an unbelievable defensive effort," Gillespie said. "We didn't play perfect. We missed free throws, we turned the ball over a little bit too much. But we continue to find ways to step up and do whatever it took when they made their run."
Viria Livingston, a junior who plays taller than her 5-foot-8 stature, joined Hannah Green with a team-leading nine rebounds for ISU. Megan Talbot grabbed eight and Millie Stevens seven.
"It was tough. I had a big assignment (Cougars' top scorer Lauren White)," Livingston said. "She crashed the boards, too. I wanted to crash the boards and try to get more than her. In my head, it was a competition and I won it."
Livingston also scored a game-high 17 points.
"She won the scoring battle (with White), too," said Gillespie. "We talked about their big three with (Nakiah) Bell and White and (Donshel) Beck. We held them under their average, all three."
The Redbirds extended a seven-point halftime lead to 40-27 on a Livingston layup off a Stevens assist. Offensive rebounds from Green and Stevens had kept the ball at ISU's end.
ISU bolstered an 11-point edge after three quarters to 51-34 on two Green free throws with 6:51 to play.
The Cougars clawed back with 12 but got no closer.
"I think it's a mental thing," Talbot said of ISU's rebounding prowess. "You have to know mentally you can do it, and physically the team stepped up tonight and did well on the boards."
Green contributed 16 points, four assists and four blocks. Talbot added 12 points and Katrina Beck nine. The Redbirds shot 51.3 percent from the field.
Beck scored 11 and White 10 for SIUE, which could not fully capitalize on 19 ISU turnovers.
The Redbirds surged to an 8-2 lead with Green and Talbot each notching two buckets.
Livington put back her own missed shot with three seconds left in the opening quarter for a 13-9 lead.
Green's 3-pointer to start the second-quarter scoring was ISU's first successful shot from beyond the arc in nearly 54 minutes of play dating back to the Nov. 22 George Mason game. The Redbirds had missed 13 consecutive 3-point tries.
SIUE sliced a 26-17 deficit to 26-22 on a White driving basket. Livingston took an inbound pass and drilled a 3-pointer with one second showing to restore a seven-point Redbird margin.
ISU meets Butler at 2 p.m. Sunday at Redbird Arena.