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Illinois State redshirt Zach Copeland, left, and teammate Phil Fayne celebrate the win over Drake on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 at Redbird Arena.


CHICAGO — Phil Fayne said "my adrenaline was going so my ankle felt great" on Wednesday after missing the previous three games for Illinois State's basketball team. 

There figures to be plenty of adrenaline going for Fayne and everyone else inside cozy Gentile Center on Saturday.

ISU concludes the Missouri Valley Conference regular season with a 1 p.m. tipoff against league champion Loyola (ESPN2). The Ramblers (24-5, 14-3) will be honoring five players on Senior Day and celebrating their first outright conference title in 33 years with their first home sellout since 2003.

"It will be a great envrionment, but there still will be a decent amount of red which is always nice," said ISU coach Dan Muller. "I'm looking forward to seeing how we handle the environment, the situation and pressure of the moment."

The Redbirds (16-13, 10-7) are tied for third place in the Valley with Drake, which is home Saturday against last-place Valparaiso. ISU could still get a share of second, and possibly the No. 2 seed next week in St. Louis, with a win and a Southern Illinois loss at Evansville.

If ISU loses and Drake wins, the Redbirds likely will be the No. 4 seed and face fifth-seeded Bradley at 2:30 p.m. Friday in a quarterfinal game.

"The truth is it's good preparation for next week (the MVC Tournament) because there's pressure, you're playing a good team and if you make mistakes you're probably going to lose," said Muller. "We have to be able to play well in that situation." 

ISU is back to full health. Fayne, who injured his left ankle on Feb. 8, also battled the stomach flu Wednesday (along with Madison Williams). But the junior forward managed 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds in 28 minutes during an 89-81 overtime win over Drake.

"It's real important I showed my team I'm back and able to help and contribute like I did before and everything," said Fayne, who was 5 of 7 from the field and 6 of 7 at the line.

ISU freshman Taylor Bruninga also returned after missing two games with a concussion, although he only played four minutes. Junior guard Keyshawn Evans had his best game since he began wearing a knee brace two weeks ago, tallying 23 points while sinking five 3-pointers.

"If we would played them a week ago, I would have told you we would have no chance basically," said Muller. "Our focus obviously is to win, but also get Phil closer to full strength and keep getting Keyshawn in the flow and making sure Boogie (William Tinsley) and Milik (Yarbrough) continue to play the way they have, and I could go on down the line."

Loyola clinched the outright Valley title Wednesday by winning at SIU, 75-56. It is the Ramblers' first crown since joining the Valley in 2013 and first outright league title since winning the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1985.

Loyola's formula to success under coach Porter Moser has been an efficient offense and lockdown defense.

The Ramblers have five players averaging in double figures, led by junior point guard Clayton Custer's 14.7 mark. Loyola's .518 field goal percentage ranks second in the country and its 41.5 percent shooting outside the arc is tied for seventh nationally.

Defensively, Loyola ranks second in the league allowing 63.4 points per game and third in opponents' field goal percentage (.417).

Custer, who transferred from Iowa State two years ago, has turned into the likely Larry Bird Trophy winner as the Valley's most valuable player. Loyola is 22-2 with him in the lineup.

The 6-foot-1 Custer ranks in the Valley's top five in six categories — second in 3-point field goal percentage (.490); third in assist-turnover ratio (2.1); fourth in assists (4.1) and steals (1.7); and fifth in field goal percentage (.564) and free throw percentage (.806).

"He's just really, really valuable on every level — passing, scoring, field goal percentage. He's really efficient. He's a winner," said Moser, who coached ISU from 2003-07. "I can't say enough about him and what he means to us on a lot of different fronts."

Moser is the fifth coach who has won or shared the league title after having won a Valley crown as a player, which he did in 1989 at Creighton. Muller joined that group last year after helping ISU to regular-season titles as a player in 1997 and 1998.

Follow Jim Benson on Twitter: @Pg_Benson



Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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