SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — John Wilkins has not started a game this season for Illinois State’s basketball team. That’s a big change after the 6-foot-9 senior forward started 51 of 61 games the two previous seasons.
Yet Wilkins knows defensive breakdowns by starters and reserves alike have been the main culprit in the Redbirds getting off to an unexpected 0-3 beginning to the Missouri Valley Conference season.
“Defensively we have a lack of discipline. We get too impatient,” said Wilkins. “We have good defense, but at certain points we get undisciplined and that’s cost us some games.”
Wilkins said the Redbirds (9-6) are taking an approach that they’re 0-0 in Valley play heading into today’s 7:05 p.m. game against Missouri State (4-11, 2-1).
“We’re just going day by day,” he said.
There were low points on offense and defense during ISU’s 70-60 to Northern Iowa on Saturday. The Redbirds hit only two of 18 attempts from 3-point range and allowed the Panthers to dictate the pace offensively.
ISU coach Dan Muller said the main emphasis in practice the last two days has been “to fix our defense.”
“We’re just not guarding with the same urgency we guarded in the nonconference season,” said Muller. “We’re really trying to get that going. With any good team it starts on defense and offensively you hope it picks up. Offense is more individual with guys making shots they normally make. We have to get those guys shooting better.”
Whether the Redbirds will have their emotional sparkplug remains to be seen.
Bryant Allen’s right ankle problems, caused from a football injury he had at Minnesota in 2010, flared up last Friday. Allen missed Saturday’s game and didn’t practice Sunday. Allen was a limited participant in Monday’s practice in Normal, but Muller said the junior guard’s status for today is questionable.
“If B.A. plays or not (today) we have to play with the same energy,” said Muller.
Muller said “there certainly could be some lineup changes” to shake up the team. The Redbirds have not come out strong in the first half in all three of their Valley losses.
ISU will find a team today that has done an almost complete reversal to the Redbirds.
Missouri State did not beat a Division I team in the preseason. However, the Bears began the Valley season with a home win against Southern Illinois. Missouri State hit the road last week, losing in overtime at Evansville before beating Drake on Saturday.
The Bears suffered a major blow in July when senior forward Jarmar Gulley suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during a summer league game. He had surgery in August and will miss the entire season, but is expected back next season.
Gulley’s absence left guard Anthony Downing as the Bears’ lone senior. Downing is the Valley’s eighth-leading scorer with a 14.0 average. Missouri State starts three freshmen and a sophomore with Downing, but the baby Bears are started to make progress.
“Their team is much younger, so we’re going to try and emphasize to play physical against them,” said Wilkins.
Missouri State coach Paul Lusk lost his voice during the weekend. But assistant coach Jermaine Henderson said on Monday’s Valley coaches teleconference call it has been “a combination of things” that has helped the Bears get on the winning track.
“Offensively we’ve slowed down a little bit and are trying to scheme our way a little bit on defense to try and counter what guys do in the league,” he said.
Muller said by watching tape that Lusk has the Bears playing as hard as any Redbird opponent he has seen this season. Missouri State also has shot much better in league play as the Bears rank No. 2 during Valley games in field goal percentage (.476) and 3-point field goal percentage (.451).