NORMAL — DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell showed right away he was ready for a step up in competition. He recorded a double-double in his first game with Illinois State's basketball team this season.
Even when the 6-foot-5 junior wing suffered a broken bone in his right hand in mid-December, it only slowed him down temporarily.
Akoon-Purcell, who missed seven games after surgery, finished the regular season with a flourish and was named the Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year when the league announced its postseason awards Tuesday. Voting was done by league coaches, sports information directors and a media panel.
“I feel like I approached it the right way and didn't come out and try to be (something) extra,” said the Orlando, Fla., native, who transferred from Eastern Oklahoma State College. “Once I got that first game under my belt, I just started to gain confidence from there.”
Akoon-Purcell, who averages 13.0 points and a team-high 5.7 rebounds, wasn't the only Redbird player to receive accolades.
Senior guard Daishon Knight and sophomore center Reggie Lynch were named to the all-conference second team, while Lynch and sophomore guard Paris Lee made the all-defensive team.
“I'm really happy for those guys and proud of them,” said ISU coach Dan Muller. “Individual awards are also team awards because most of the players are on winning teams.”
ISU (19-11) won its last four games to finish in a third-place tie in the Valley. The fourth-seeded Redbirds face No. 5 Evansville (19-11) at 2:30 p.m. Friday in an MVC Tournament quarterfinal game at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
Southern Illinois junior guard Anthony Beane Jr., a former Normal Community High School standout, also was named to the second team for the second straight year. Beane is the league's second-leading scorer at 16.5 points.
Northern Iowa's Seth Tuttle, the league's active leader in scoring and rebounding, captured the MVC Larry Bird Player of the Year award. Other league honors went to Indiana State's Brenton Scott (Freshman of the Year), UNI's Wes Washpun (Sixth Man of the Year) and Wichita State's Tekele Cotton (Defensive MVP).
Coach of the Year will be announced at a tournament tipoff luncheon Thursday in St. Louis. See Scoreboard for list of all-league teams.
After missing the first three Valley games, Akoon-Purcell struggled with his shooting. But that gradually came around as he averaged 16.7 points in the last seven games to become the first ISU player to earn the Newcomer of the Year honor since Champ Oguchi in 2009.
Muller wasn't surprised at the smooth transition Akoon-Purcell made from junior college.
“He's a mature kid. It speaks to his overall mindset and approach to the game and coachability,” said the ISU coach. “The transition is difficult because expectations are higher and accountability is so much higher on and off the court. It takes a while for guys to accept coaching and playing hard, but he didn't struggle in those things.”
Knight paces ISU with a 13.9 scoring average, fifth best in the league, and his .854 free throw percentage is second in the Valley. He was an honorable mention selection last year.
Lynch leads the MVC and ranks No. 19 nationally with 2.7 blocks per game while contributing 9.4 points and 5.4 rebounds. Lee has set a school record with 75 steals and also leads the Valley and ranks No. 8 nationally with 2.6 steals per game.
“Both can dominate a game on the defensive end and disrupt a game on the defensive end,” said Muller. “To have those guys for two more years is pretty exciting.”
Lynch made the All-Freshman and All-Newcomer squad last year. His scoring and rebounding averages have improved this year along with his free throw percentage (.553 to .684).
“I'm scoring in a lot of different ways, with both hands. I feel a lot better this year than last year and I can get a lot better, rebounding in general,” said Lynch.
Lee broke Todd Starks' school record of 61 steals with five games left in the regular season. He had 47 steals as a freshman.
“Last year we played a lot of zone and it was hard to get steals like that,” said Lee. “Nine times out of 10, I stick to the point guard and he has the ball the most and runs the show. If you can take the head off the body then the body can't function.”
Tuttle easily won the Player of the Year voting, taking 38 of the 47 first-place votes and receiving 123 points. Wichita State's Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet were second and third, respectively, with 71 and 65 points. Baker got five first-place votes and VanVleet, last year's winner, received the other four.
Joining Tuttle, Baker and VanVleet on the all-league first team were Evansville teammates D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius.