NORMAL — With two of its top three players on the bench injured to start overtime, Illinois State could have felt it was back playing Mississippi in December without a full deck.
Yet, like the Redbirds did at Ole Miss when they pulled out an improbable victory, ISU showed it could win the extra five-minute session Thursday in a key Missouri Valley Conference game.
Matt Hein scored six points in overtime and the Redbird bench contributed 38 points as ISU held off Southern Illinois, 76-68, before a Redbird Arena crowd of 4,948.
“With the guys we had in the game and different guys who would have to make plays, it was very similar,” said ISU coach Dan Muller to the 101-97 win on Dec. 16 in Oxford, Miss. “It was lower scoring and not as much rhythm because of fouls and turnovers, but the way we had other guys step up, absolutely.”
Freshman Elijah Clarance scored a season-high 15 points to lead ISU to its fourth straight win. William Tinsley, mired in a season-long shooting slump, sank four 3-pointers and scored a career-high 14 points.
Junior center David Ndiaye added 13 points, also a career best, as ISU improved to 14-11 overall. The Redbirds moved into a second-place tie in the Valley with SIU at 8-5, two games behind Loyola, heading into Sunday's 3 p.m. game at Valparaiso.
Milik Yarbrough, the other piece of ISU's Big Three with Phil Fayne and Keyshawn Evans, had 11 points, nine rebounds and five assists. But Yarbrough committed nine of the Redbirds' 19 turnovers and was benched near the end of regulation before returning for overtime.
Fayne, who had five points and six rebounds, sprained his left ankle with 3:04 left in regulation and joined starting point guard Evans, who was out with a bone bruise on his knee.
After a three-point play by freshman Taylor Bruninga, who had nine points, with 34 seconds left forced overtime, the Redbirds weren't dismayed.
“Like E (Clarance) stepping up (for Evans), it's the next person up mindset,” said Tinsley. “We all trust each other and play hard in practice. Whoever is playing right now is going to play hard and get the win.”
Ndiaye split a pair of free throws to start overtime before Hein's 3-pointer gave ISU a 68-64 lead with 3:05 left. Sean Lloyd's driving basket cut the gap to 68-66 before Clarance made one of two at the line.
Aaron Cook missed two free throws for the second time in overtime for the Salukis. Hein then was fouled outside the arc by Cook with 49.7 seconds left and sank all three attempts. SIU didn't get closer than four the rest of the way.
“I was just aggressive,” said Clarance, who also contributed four assists, four rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes. “Knowing Keyshawn was out he told me I have be aggressive and take (his) lead, basically, so I had to do that.”
SIU (16-10) had its five-game winning streak snapped and lost its 11th straight game at Redbird Arena. The Salukis were paced by Kavion Pippen, Armon Fletcher and Lloyd with 14 points each.
Because of a rash of injuries this season, the Salukis typically play a six-man rotation. Four of those guys played 40 or more minutes Thursday.
“Everyone said when we got to overtime, great, but we didn't have any legs,” said SIU coach Barry Hinson, whose team beat ISU, 74-70, on Jan. 13 in Carbondale. “The game was won on the boards and the Illinois State guys who did not start were phenomenal.”
ISU grabbed a 46-31 rebounding advantage. That included 14 offensive boards, which helped the Redbirds to a 17-11 edge in second-chance points. ISU shot 42.6 percent from the field and held SIU to 36.1 percent field goal shooting.
Tinsley, a 6-6 junior, came to ISU this season from Lakeland College with a reputation as a great outside shooter. But he's struggled to 23.5 percent outside the arc. Something clicked Thursday as he made his first three and finished 4 of 7.
“Coach tells me every day in practice I have to work on my shot, work on my shot, it's going to pay off,” said the Ridgeview High School graduate. “Today it paid off.”
An eight-point outburst by Clarance, which included a left-handed slam on the break, gave the Redbirds a 50-41 lead. SIU recovered with a 7-0 run and closed within 55-54 on Marcus Bartley's 3-pointer with 7:26 left.
SIU took its first lead since early in the first half on Tyler Smithpeters' 3-pointer to go ahead, 57-56, with 5:14 left. ISU reclaimed the lead at 61-59 on Tinsley's 3-pointer with 3:58 left before the Salukis took a 62-61 lead with 2:10 left.
Bruninga's three-point play tied the game at 64-all with 34.8 seconds left. SIU worked the clock down, but Smithpeters shot an air-ball on a long 3-point attempt with 4.8 seconds left to give ISU one more chance.
Clarance turned the ball over, but Cook's long attempt near the halfcourt line hit the backboard and bounced away to force overtime.
“If Taylor does not get that rebound and putback, we don't win,” said Muller. “Elijah was outstanding tonight. Boogie (Tinsley) finally saw some shots go in and made some big plays. We needed every bit of it.
“Phil had a bad night before he got hurt and obviously Keyshawn was out. Milik, in the second half, we couldn't keep him in there (because of turnovers). We needed other guys to step up, and we have plenty to do that.”