SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The clock was nearing midnight Saturday. However, Illinois State junior Keyshawn Evans was still wired and put down a challenge to his teammates.
"We played with so much energy out there. That was the best defensive game I've seen us play this year that I've been part of," said Evans after the Redbirds' 76-65 victory over Valparaiso. "I definitely think we should keep feeding off that and keep it going."
If defense does indeed travel, as coaches like to tell their players, then that type of effort will be needed again by ISU to snap a four-game Missouri Valley Conference road losing streak.
The Redbirds (11-11) square off against Missouri State (15-8) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at JQH Arena.
When the Bears left Redbird Arena on Jan. 7 after suffering a 72-68 loss to ISU, both teams were 3-1 in the Valley. Hopes of a regular-season title was very much in each team's thoughts.
Now, ISU and Missouri State are just trying to stay in the upper division. They are tied for fifth place in the league at 5-5 with Indiana State, three games behind Loyola with eight left.
ISU hasn't put up much of a defensive resistance in three of its last four Valley road losses, falling behind big early at Drake, Indiana State and Northern Iowa. The other defeat came when the Redbirds squandered a 14-point lead with seven minutes left at Southern Illinois.
"We haven't played well on the road recently and we're going into another tough road game where we're going to have to play a lot better to beat a good team," said ISU coach Dan Muller.
Truth is, outside of Loyola, none of the other Valley teams are enjoying much road success. The Ramblers own four of the league's road victories as home teams have gone 35-15.
Missouri State was the preseason league favorite. However, the Bears are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, including a 79-77 defeat at home to Southern Illinois on Saturday, as well as dealing with a training mishap.
On Jan. 22, the entire Missouri State men's team — as well as eight members of the women's team — underwent a whole-body cryotherapy treatment, which involves cooling the body using liquid nitrogen and is designed to improve recovery and reduce soreness after workouts.
However, Reggie Scurry and Abdul Fofano developed foot blisters after the treatment. Both missed two games last week and won't play against ISU. Scurry is a key member of the Bears' front-court rotation. The athletic 6-5 junior forward averages 8.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
Missouri State coach Paul Lusk said the incident "has shook us up a little bit."
"They're young people and our guys didn't do anything wrong ... it was hard to see that happen," said Lusk. "Fortunately, they're going to be OK. They're going to be out some time. It's a distraction that has affected us all."
Missouri State has struggled scoring from the perimeter to complement 6-9 forward Alize Johnson, the Valley Preseason Player of the Year who has 17 double-doubles this season.
The Bears' defense has been good for the most part, allowing 63.5 points per game and holding opponents to 39.5 percent field goal shooting. But SIU shot 63.8 percent from the field and 61.5 percent outside the arc against Missouri State on Saturday.
Muller would like ISU's David Ndiaye to regain his defensive identity. The 7-footer, who missed the first 13 games with a stress fracture, has only nine blocks in nine games. He led ISU with 1.6 blocks per game last season.
"He's not alerting or blocking as many as he should. He's only had one game where I thought he was a big-time rim protector, and that was the Bradley game," said Muller. "In order for David to keep playing the minutes he's playing, he needs to play a lot better defensively."
MVC honor for Yarbrough: ISU junior forward Milik Yarbrough was named MVC Newcomer of the Week for the fourth time this season, the league announced Monday.
Yarbrough averaged 18.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists in games against UNI and Valparaiso. He made 15-of-29 shots from the field and added four steals.