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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The "next man up" philosophy has been embraced by Illinois State's basketball team with injuries to three starters.

Much to the Redbirds' liking, their "man" defense seems to be making a comeback, too.

After playing zone most of this season, the Redbirds have transitioned more to a man-to-man defense the past couple games. That could be severely tested against high-scoring Marcus Marshall on Sunday when ISU visits Missouri State in a 2 p.m. Missouri Valley Conference game at JQH Arena.

"Our team changed quite a bit because of the injuries. Our length changed quite a bit," said ISU coach Dan Muller. "Some of our guys are very good man defenders and our zone wasn't getting it done, specifically in the second halves."

Senior center John Jones doesn't mind the shift in defensive emphasis.

"Coach has been playing man lately and it's helping us defend better," said Jones. "You've got to go with whatever works."

With wing DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell (broken hand), forward Deontae Hawkins (foot) and center Reggie Lynch (back) out or limited the past four weeks, ISU's overall size has taken a hit.

Akoon-Purcell is now wearing a splint and seems close to returning, although Muller won't nail down a date. Lynch has missed two of the last four games, including Wednesday's 81-45 rout of Drake, and played 31 minutes in the other two. Hawkins figures to be sidelined indefinitely.

Whether in man or zone, ISU (9-6, 1-2) will need to be at its defensive best against Marshall. The 6-foot-3 junior guard is among the nation's top 10 scorers with a 20.2 average.

Marshall was held to a season-low 11 points Wednesday as the Bears (8-7, 2-1) suffered their first Valley loss by falling at Indiana State, 71-56.

"He's making tough shots from deep. He's automatic from the foul line (89.1 percent)," said Muller. "He's scoring from everywhere on the court and every way possible."

The ISU coach, who calls himself a man-to-man coach, switched to a 2-3 zone early last season when the Redbirds starting playing a four-guard lineup. 

During summer practices, Muller said ISU worked on man defense all the time before "tweaking" things in preseason practice and deciding zone was the best way to go early this season.

ISU started in man last Sunday at Wichita State before switching to zone. The Redbirds planned to play some zone against Drake, but the man defense was working so well that Muller stayed with it.

"A guy like Will Ransom is really good at ball-screen defense, and with Tony (Wills) and Bobby (Hunter) and Daishon (Knight) and Paris (Lee) and at the 4 (MiKyle McIntosh), we're fine with quickness. It's gotten better," said Muller.

Ransom and Jones have given ISU valuable minutes in the post with Lynch's ailing lower back keeping him on the bench or slowing him down in games.

Jones said his mindset doesn't really change depending on Lynch's availability. 

"You're always ready to play the game. One of your teammates might be down that night and someone has to step up and make big plays," said Jones, who had seven rebounds and three rebounds against Drake.

"All that matters is everyone is out there every night trying to compete and trying to win games. If he's not out there, somebody else will step up."



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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