NORMAL — Keyshawn Evans finally came out of the locker room for the second half limping with his left knee wrapped in ice. The Milik Yarbrough & Phil Fayne Show was expected to dominate the rest of the way for Illinois State's basketball team.
Yarbrough and Fayne did a lot of good things for ISU. They had plenty of help, too.
The Redbirds got contributions from up and down their roster Saturday. When Madison Williams blocked a 3-point attempt by hot-shooting Ryan Taylor with six seconds left, ISU secured a 75-71 victory over upset-minded Evansville in a Missouri Valley Conference game before a Redbird Arena season-high crowd of 6,923.
“Me and Phil talk about that a lot. We need everybody to play well and everybody to get their little four to six points,” said Yarbrough. “It brings a lot of stress off Phil and me trying to score the ball and opens up everything.”
Yarbrough, Fayne and Matt Hein finished with 13 points each as all 10 Redbirds who played scored. David Ndiaye tied his career high with six blocks to go with eight points and five rebounds. Hein, who set a career high in points, sank two 3-pointers along with freshman Taylor Bruninga and Williams.
Then there was Elijah Clarance. The freshman point guard, who didn't play in the last game nor in Saturday's first half, contributed 11 solid minutes in the second half after Evans was injured late in the first half.
“I've said many times I really trust the depth of our team,” said ISU coach Dan Muller. “Even though I cut the rotation down (last week), it wasn't because we didn't have enough good players. I just wanted to get more rhythm.”
The Redbirds' third straight win improved their record to 13-11 overall and 7-5 in the Valley, two games behind Loyola. Whether Evans, who is averaging 15.6 points, will be available for Thursday's 8 p.m. game against Southern Illinois at Redbird Arena remains to be seen.
Evans came down awkwardly after missing a shot with 1:45 left in the first half. Earlier this season, he twice suffered a bone bruise on the same knee, forcing him to miss a Dec. 31 game against Indiana State.
Muller doesn't expect an MRI to be taken until Monday. Evans left after the game on crutches.
“We'll keep our fingers crossed that Keyshawn is OK and if he's not, for however long he's out, we've got plenty of guys on our team who can fill the void,” said Muller. “I feel really bad for Keyshawn if something's wrong. Hopefully he tweaked it and he'll be OK. We'll be smart and be careful with him.”
Taylor, the Valley's scoring leader, nearly derailed ISU's bid to remain in the Valley championship hunt.
The 6-foot-6 junior poured in 32 points, sinking 8 of 12 attempts from outside the arc. Ironically, the last player with at least 30 points against ISU was another Evansville sharpshooter, D.J. Balentine, who scored 38 four years ago.
After Bruninga split a pair of free throws with 15.1 seconds left to give ISU a 74-71 lead, everyone in the building knew where Evansville (15-10, 5-7) was going.
As Taylor went up for a possible tie, the 6-3 Williams soared high to block the attempt. Hein retrieved the loose ball and was fouled, making a free throw with four seconds left for the final margin.
“Madison is a great defender,” said Fayne, who grabbed 10 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. “I know when it comes down to it, I put my whole faith in Madison to make a play.”
Evansville, which lost to ISU by six to open the Valley season on Dec. 23, shot 41.4 percent from the field after ISU's defense held Valparaiso and Missouri State under 40 percent the last two games. But take away Taylor's 10-of-22 effort and the Aces checked in at 38.9 percent.
ISU seemed poised for a blowout early. The Redbirds came out sharp on both ends and took a 25-12 lead midway through the first half after an Evans 3-pointer.
But Yarbrough picked up his second foul with 11:37 left and Fayne did the same with 5:11 left. With both on the bench, Evansville took advantage and closed within 34-33 at the intermission.
ISU found out in the locker room that Evans was done for the game. Yarbrough knew what that meant.
“I just had to be a little more aggressive,” said Yarbrough, who added seven rebounds and five assists. “He (Muller) told me I would probably play the whole half. I got my head right.”
ISU used an 11-2 run, capped by Fayne's rebound dunk, to take a 52-45 lead with 10:39 left. The Redbirds were still ahead by seven at 66-59 after Williams' 3-pointer with 2:46 left, but Evansville never went away and had a chance to tie at the end.
“I'm proud of our guys. I thought we hung in there and played the full 40 minutes,” said Evansville coach Marty Simmons, as the Aces were without point guard Dru Smith because of a foot injury. “We probably played hard enough at times to win, but probably we didn't play smart enough. We made too many mistakes.”