ST. LOUIS — Illinois State's basketball team will try to have amnesia when it hits the Scottrade Center court for Friday's 8:30 p.m. Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinal game against Indiana State.
The Redbirds need to forget about an 84-54 thrashing administered to them by Indiana State in the last meeting between the teams on Jan. 20 in Terre Haute. And ISU would be wise to erase the memory of the last time it played in Arch Madness' late quarterfinal game in 2016, when the Sycamores ended ISU's season with a 65-57 loss.
“Different team, different players, different circumstances … That team had a couple guys looking forward to spring break, to be honest. That never helps,” said Redbird coach Dan Muller. “Luckily, those guys didn't return.”
Indiana State coach Greg Lansing believes his team's 30-point blowout over the Redbirds 40 days ago won't have any bearing on Friday's outcome, either.
“The game at our place we played about as well as we could play and they didn't play well at all, and it just kind of snowballed from there,” he said. “I don't take much out of that score. Sometimes those games happen.”
Like two years ago, ISU (16-14) is the No. 3 seed with the Sycamores (13-17) sixth. The winner advances to Saturday's 5 p.m. semifinal.
The Redbirds are about as healthy as they've been in the last month.
Keyshawn Evans, who has missed three games this season with a bruised knee, looked like his old self last Saturday when he scored 20 points, making five 3-pointers, in a 68-61 loss at league champion Loyola. Phil Fayne missed three games with a sprained ankle before battling the effects of the flu while playing two games last week and figures to be stronger six days later.
“I put weight back on. I feel like Superman right now,” said Fayne, laughing, during a news conference Thursday. “I'm ready to go, fully healthy and ready to come out and do great things this week.”
ISU freshman reserve Taylor Bruninga has missed three of the last four games with a concussion and the flu, but should be available.
“We're going to come in with a swag about ourselves knowing that we have a chance to win the tournament because we have shown what we can do at a high level at certain times,” said ISU's Milik Yarbrough, the MVC Newcomer of the Year and an all-league first-team selection.
ISU knows to beat Indiana State it must contain the Sycamores' guard tandem of Jordan Barnes and Brenton Scott, who combine for almost 32 points per game.
Barnes, a sophomore, ranks fourth in the nation with 3.7 made 3-pointers per game. His 112 3s are a school record and fourth most in MVC history during the regular season. The senior Scott's 270 career 3s are second most in school history and No. 7 on the MVC's all-time list.
“We have to try and make sure we run them off the (3-point) line and they come to us and we contest shots at the rim,” said Yarbrough. “We would rather (have) them shooting hard 2s because they're so little than shoot 3s. They make crazy shots and not regular 3s.”
The Sycamores are worried about Yarbrough, who scored 29 points during ISU's 84-81 overtime victory over Indiana State on Dec. 31 when Evans didn't play. The junior forward had only nine points in the rematch 21 days later when he suffered a sprained toe early in the second half and sat out the rest of the game.
“He can score at three different levels. He's a nightmare matchup,” said Lansing of Yarbrough. “What I like about his game the most is that he's a terrific passer. If you try to double him or show him something different, he hits the open man with a great pass virtually all the time.”
Yarbrough leads the MVC with 4.8 assists per game along with being the Valley's fourth-leading scorer (16.7 points per game) and fifth-leading rebounder (6.6).
Indiana State has a definite advantage in experience. Scott is a four-year starter, while senior center Brandon Murphy also was a starter in the quarterfinal win over the Redbirds two years ago.
Fayne, Evans and junior center David Ndiaye were the only ISU players who were on the court much last season when the Redbirds lost in the MVC tourney championship game to Wichita State. Muller said his team's Arch Madness inexperience is a concern.
“It is a different type of pressure with which we're trying to help them with,” said Muller, who is 5-5 as ISU's coach in St. Louis. “Until you tip that ball up, you never know how they're going to respond. We need our leaders and experienced guys to set the table and set the tone for the game.”