NORMAL — As an Illinois State newcomer last year, Daishon Knight said he didn't really understand what all this fuss was about the ISU-Bradley rivalry.
He quickly found out.
"The thing that really surprised me was when we made our first shot and the fans threw up all this confetti," said Knight. "It was a wow atmosphere, and that made it real fun right there."
The Interstate-74 rivals will meet for the 119th time at 4 p.m. Saturday at Redbird Arena with both seeking to gain some much-needed momentum. ISU will be wearing its early 1970s Doug Collins era-throwback uniforms for Retro Day.
ISU (10-7, 2-3 MVC) is coming off a heart-breaking 71-70 overtime loss at Indiana State on Wednesday. The Redbirds twice failed to come up with defensive stops that could have won their third straight game.
It has been a rockier week for Bradley (6-12, 1-4) and its embattled coach, Geno Ford. The Braves fell behind by 22 points early at home Wednesday in a 63-52 loss to No. 23-ranked Northern Iowa for their third straight defeat.
On Monday, the 11th District Court of Appeals in Ohio, by a 2-1 vote, found in favor of Kent State in its breach of contract case against Ford. The ruling requires Ford to pay Kent State $1.2 million, the remaining amount on his contract when he left in 2011 to take the Bradley job.
Ford, who could appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, also has been sick the past two days with the flu.
Bradley, which hasn't won at Redbird Arena since 2007, will have seven players experiencing the I-74 rivalry for the first time compared to six for the Redbirds.
"When you go through the first time of any rivalry you want your players to know the history and tradition of your program and the school and the fans," said ISU coach Dan Muller. "I went through it as a player, and it's important to people around here. Our players need to know that."
One of ISU's newcomers, DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, said the Redbirds will be extra motivated.
"From what I heard it's a big-time rivalry," he said. "After (Indiana State) we're really looking forward to playing them. That was a tough loss."
Akoon-Purcell, who was playing his second game Wednesday after returning from a broken hand, fouled out along with Reggie Lynch and MiKyle McIntosh.
"Fouls come from lack of positioning and using your hands almost at all times," said Muller. "You can become better at that."
Lynch was limited to 22 minutes, while Akoon-Purcell played 19 and McIntosh 13.
"I picked up two quick ones early and you're cautious how you play defense the rest of the game," said Akoon-Purcell. "The same with Reggie and MiKyle. We caught some bad fouls like little pushes before rebounds. It caught up to us in the end."
ISU remains without forward Deontae Hawkins (stress reaction in foot), but the Redbirds won't get any sympathy from the Braves.
Bradley players have missed 23 games due to injuries. Junior center Jermaine Morgan has missed the last six with a sprained right ankle.
The battle for rebounds could be pivotal. ISU leads the Valley, and ranks No. 27 nationally, in rebound margin at plus 6.9. Bradley is tied for fifth in the league at plus 2.1, while freshman forward Josh Cunningham is second individually at 7.3 rebounds per game.
"They're big and long," said Muller of the Braves. "They have great athletes at (positions) 3 to 5 almost at all times. They have a couple guards who have been injured. Those guys are getting back to full-game shape, so we have to be careful."
Taste of Redbirds: The 12th annual Taste of Redbirds takes place from 1:30-3:30 p.m. at Horton Field House. Admission is free with $1 tickets for food and beverages.