Already hopelessly behind, Illinois State’s basketball team had its face rubbed in it Saturday in the final five minutes at Hulman Center.
Indiana State’s Qiydar Davis broke loose for a thunderous dunk. A teammate added a layup off a steal. Then, after the ball bounced off the head of one Redbird player and through the hands of another, Davis bolted up the court for another dunk.
The home team led 81-42. The Sycamores and a crowd of 5,148 were in full party mode. The visitors in red were embarrassed.
Maybe that’s a good thing. A memory like that can serve as motivation. Or, maybe it’s better to put the whole thing quickly in the rearview mirror.
Which is best?
“That’s a good question. I’m not sure yet,” Redbird coach Dan Muller said after the 84-54 loss. “I don’t want to make any rash decisions right after an emotional loss. I don’t care if you put it behind you or not, it’s hard to forget a whoopin’ like that.”
Then, his voice rising a bit, Muller addressed an issue that goes beyond one loss.
“I don’t know … whatever it takes to grow up,” he said of his roller-coaster, 10-10 team. “I’m trying to figure out how to help them with that and I’m not doing a very good job of doing it.”
Then, it was back to the original question. Should they let it go or remember every painful second?
“I’ll have to think about it. I’m not sure,” he said. “I’ll get up tomorrow. I’ve got time to think about it.”
The clock is ticking on the Redbirds to find the maturity necessary to attain consistency. Muller knows it more than anyone. What matters is whether or not his players see the urgency.
Friday, they didn’t. Muller said Saturday some players were late to the team bus, a transgression he said “continues to show our immaturity.”
Now this … a loss that made the Redbirds look more like a Thursday night play-in game team at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament than a title contender.
We should know very soon how this is going to play out, beginning with Wednesday’s game at Northern Iowa.
“It (the loss) tests your togetherness and how close your guys are and how willing your guys are to stay together no matter how bad things may seem at the time,” junior guard Keyshawn Evans said. “You just have to fight through this one and get ready for next week.”
That’s one as in “one loss,” Evans said. He was trying to keep that in mind outside the somber Redbird locker room Saturday.
“It’s one loss,” he repeated. “We definitely have to fix some things from it. We have to grow up, mature a little bit. But we’ll be OK.”
There’s no way to be sure of that. The Redbirds were beaten in every conceivable way by an Indiana State team that played very well, but is, like Illinois State, just 10-10 overall.
With 3:41 left, during a media timeout and amid Indiana State’s dunking love-fest, Redbird sophomore Isaac Gassman stood up among his teammates and showed some fire.
He wasn’t going to take this sitting down.
“I just wanted to keep fighting,” he said. “There’s nothing else you can do in that situation other than keep battling and not letting them celebrate while you’re out there fighting. That’s all I was doing.”
It was that kind of day. Long before Illinois State junior Phil Fayne was poked in the eye in the second half, the Redbirds had been punched in the mouth. They had no answer for Indiana State’s physical, aggressive play.
Gassman answered quickly in regard to putting the loss behind him.
“When you lose like that, you have to remember it because this feeling of being in the locker room … it’s not something we can celebrate obviously,” he said. “Something has to change or else the same thing is going to keep happening.
“There’s a lot conference season left, but we have to do it now. We’ll look back at these losses and regret it if we don’t start taking a different route. It’s going to be a big turning point.”
That’s Muller’s hope, that his players respond to this with a more mature mindset and more consistent effort. It needs to be a “turning point.”
And as the bus pulled out of Terre Haute, there was nowhere to go but up.