NORMAL — Those who left Redbird Arena at halftime Saturday should have grabbed Tim Jankovich and taken him with them.
That would have made it easier for the Illinois State basketball coach to sleep later.
“We pumped some kind of gas in our locker room and a different team came out, to say the least,” said Jankovich. “As well as we played the first half I thought we played just as poorly in all areas (in the second half).”
ISU clamped down on defense and bolted to a 25-point halftime lead against North Florida before easing up after the intermission. Although the outcome was never in doubt, the luster was taken off a 71-55 victory in the Redbirds’ regular-season home opener before a crowd of 5,019.
“We tried to come out with the same intensity we did in the first half, but they just made some tough shots,” said Osiris Eldridge, who paced the Redbirds with a game-high 24 points.
ISU (2-0) held North Florida to 31.8 percent shooting while forcing 14 turnovers in the first half. The Ospreys (1-2) made 2 of 11 shots in the final 11:22 of the half as the Redbirds went on a 26-5 spurt to grab a 42-17 lead.
Eldridge’s steal and dunk gave ISU its biggest lead of the game at 55-29 with 13:35 left. ISU was never threatened the rest of the way, but North Florida shot 66.7 percent in the second half to keep the final score respectable.
Jankovich kept the Redbirds, who play at Illinois-Chicago on Monday, in the locker room longer than usual after the game.
“To me our performance in the second half was summed up in the approach we took, which certainly is an approach we can never take again and live to tell about,” said Jankovich. “We were casual, un-alert and all those nice adjectives all coaches are completely afraid of. We had no energy and were very lethargic.”
Dinma Odiakosa added 12 points and a game-high six rebounds for the Redbirds, who shot 59.2 percent from the field while bagging 8 of 16 3-pointers.
However, ISU only grabbed one more rebound than the smaller Ospreys and committed 17 turnovers.
“We think we have a lot of room to improve, especially being more collectively better on defense,” said Odiakosa. “In the second half we should done a better job on defense. That’s where we need to improve on.”
ISU did a lot of things right in the first half. Freshman Jackie Carmichael’s short jumper started a 12-0 run that was capped by Lloyd Phillips’ 3-pointer for a 28-12 lead with 5:09 left. Eldridge fed Odiakosa for a layup and sank a 3-pointer in the final minute to push the Redbirds’ lead to 42-17 at the break.
Then ISU took a break.
“What’s disappointing to me is this is the first time we’ve played here,” said Jankovich. “In all fairness we were way ahead and a lot of air goes out of the balloon. I totally understand that. But from my standpoint I know we have so far to go, and we wasted 20 great minutes of trying to actually improve this team.”
North Florida, which lost by 21 to Notre Dame last week, was led by guard Stan Januska’s 13 points.
Eldridge put together his second strong game, shooting 10-of-16 from the field and 4-of-6 on 3s. He also had five assists and four steals and gained another admirer in North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll.
“He’s a pro. I’ve coached in the Big 12 and ACC, and I have a pretty good idea what pros look like. He’s smooth,” said Driscoll. “I don’t know if his handle is quite what it needs to be at his size (for the NBA). That’s probably why he came back. But obviously he’s very talented, and he has unbelievable range.”
Redbird report card
FRONT COURT – C: Gave up too many easy inside baskets in the second half and only outrebounded the much smaller Ospreys, 25-24.
BACKCOURT – B-: Northern Florida had no answer for Osiris Eldridge (24 points, 5 assists). ISU sank 8 of 16 attempts from 3-point territory, but committed 17 turnovers.
BENCH – C: Alex Rubin was solid in 19 minutes, while freshman Justin Clark made the first of many 3-pointers in his ISU career.
OVERALL – C+: A poor second-half performance overshadowed a good effort in the first 20 minutes. ISU needs to regroup quickly with game Monday at Illinois-Chicago.