NORMAL — Personally speaking, Phil Fayne said he got out of bed in the morning and was excited for the Illinois State basketball team's home opener Wednesday night at Redbird Arena. He swears there was no taking Division II Quincy lightly.
But after Quincy trimmed the Redbirds' lead to 43-35 at halftime, the junior forward realized something had to change.
“We knew our defensive effort in the first half was not like what Redbird basketball really is,” said Fayne. “We talked about it a lot at halftime and each individual person knew they had to step up on defense. We just came out and had a better effort on defense.”
ISU's defensive intensity was apparent after the break as they jumped to a 24-point lead with 13 minutes left. Fayne scored 19 points to lead the way as ISU earned an 86-57 victory over the Hawks before a Thanksgiving Eve crowd of 3,733.
Keyshawn Evans, who came into the game averaging 23.8 points per game, contributed 17 points and six assists, while Madison Williams and Taylor Bruninga added 10 points each as ISU improved to 3-2. The Redbirds played without forward Milik Yarbrough, who was sitting out a one-game suspension for violation of team rules.
After going 2-1 in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic at Myrtle Beach, ISU coach Dan Muller wasn't too surprised to see his team come out sluggish, especially on the defensive end, in the first half.
Muller told the team at halftime he was not going to yell at them and lose his voice, but that it was up to the players to get it right.
“We were a step slow,” said Muller. “Guys felt like they were a little fatigued, but that's the mindset you can't have and I think we proved that in the second half.”
The Redbirds stayed in their man-to-man defense, but they quit allowing Quincy (0-5) any driving lanes and forced three turnovers in the Hawks' first four possessions. Quincy had four turnovers in the entire first half.
ISU held Quincy without a basket on its first five possessions. With freshman walk-on Luke Litwiller making a 3-pointer from the wing and Evans converting a wide-open 3-pointer, the Redbirds took a 51-38 lead.
Litwiller hit another 3-pointer as ISU stretched the lead to 64-40.
“I thought in the second half they turned up the pressure a little bit on us,” said Quincy first-year coach Ryan Hellenthal. “I told the guys at halftime the first 5-10 minutes of the second half would be huge. I thought they would try to deliver the knockout blow, and they certainly did. We could not handle Fayne or Evans, which I knew going in would be a tough task.”
ISU junior guard William Tinsley broke out of a shooting slump by making three 3-pointers in the second half to finish with nine points along with a game-high 10 rebounds. The Redbirds shot 51.6 percent from the field, including 14 of 29 outside the arc.
“It felt good,” said Tinsley, the Ridgeview High School graduate who was 2 of 20 outside the arc before his second-half explosion. “I was in a slump at the Myrtle Beach tournament, but seeing those three go in is going to help me going into Saturday with more confidence. I was just not patient. Coach told me before the game to be patient and it's going to come to you, and the second half it came to me.”
Muller hopes seeing the ball go in during the second half for Tinsley “frees him up a little bit.”
“Like most first-year players his confidence is fragile,” said Muller. “The thing with Boogie (Tinsley) is trying to teach him to take the right shots. He forces some shots because he thinks if I make that one it will be OK. But he had 10 rebounds and made good plays defensively. I want him to understand there's a lot of other things he can do to help us win.”
Litwiller, an Olympia High School graduate who has been with the team for about a month, made another 3-pointer later to finish with nine points.
“Playing without Milik we just had a lot of people really step up and do their job,” said Fayne, who has scored in double figures in every game this season. “Luke, our walk-on, stepped up big time and is doing his thing out there.”
The Hawks were paced by guard Demetrius Houston's 11 points. Quincy shot 35.7 percent from the field.
The Redbirds came out hot from outside the arc. Williams sank ISU's sixth 3-pointer for a 22-14 lead with 13:15 left in the first half.
That was the Redbirds' last 3-pointer of the half. Still, ISU was comfortably ahead when Fayne's dunk off an Evans feed gave the Redbirds a 40-26 advantage. But the Hawks took advantage of ISU's defensive lapses and cold shooting and closed the half on an 11-3 run.
ISU entertains Charleston Southern at 8 p.m. Saturday at Redbird Arena.