NORMAL — Daishon Knight was under strict orders Saturday night to shoot early at Redbird Arena — or else.
“I put in a rule for Daishon with his first (look) that he had to shoot or he was coming out. It worked,” said Illinois State basketball coach Dan Muller.
Knight sank his first three shots and didn’t stop. He scored a season-high 26 points in leading the Redbirds to a 70-54 victory over archrival Bradley in a Missouri Valley Conference game before a crowd of 8,111 that gave Knight a standing ovation when he left with 1:23 left.
“Coach drew up a play (at the start) and told me to be aggressive on it and look for the shot,” said Knight, who scored 21 points earlier this season against Dayton. “He told me sometimes you pass it up before you even know you’re open.”
Knight went 8 of 12 from the field, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Paris Lee added 13 points, sinking 2-of-3 attempts outside the arc, and Bobby Hunter scored 10 points as the Redbirds (14-12, 7-7) avenged a 64-45 loss to Bradley last month in Peoria thanks to 48 percent shooting (24 of 50).
“Daishon is a very talented player. He has not shot well a lot of the season and hopefully this gets him going the last four games of the season,” said Muller. “That would be huge for our team.”
Knight was on the bench with three fouls early in the second half as Bradley (11-16, 6-8) cut the Redbirds’ lead to 38-35 on Walt Lemon Jr.’s 3-pointer.
But ISU went on a 15-4 run, which included 3-pointers by Hunter and Zach Lofton, to stretch the advantage to 51-39.
Bradley never got closer than nine the rest of the way. The frustration boiled over for the Braves when freshman center Xzavier Taylor got a technical foul with 3:21 left after thinking he was fouled by Reggie Lynch.
After making 2 of 10 from 3-point range in the first half, the Redbirds were 8 of 15 after the intermission. Bradley went to a zone early in the game, much as it did in Peoria, but this time there was a different result.
“Overall they shot it really well, much better than they have on the season,” said Bradley coach Geno Ford. “At some point when you get a hand up and a guy makes a 3, you tip your hat to him. Daishon Knight and Paris Lee, those guys percentage wise, have not been as effective as they were today.”
Lemon, the Valley’s second-leading scorer in league games with a 20.2 average, paced the Braves with 18 points. But he had only six points in the second half, both on 3-pointers.
“He got loose on us in the first half on a couple transition (baskets),” said Muller. “He drove the ball against our zone and we just challenged our guards to guard him better. He’s unbelievably hard to guard.”
The Braves shot 34.7 percent from the field (17 of 49). Tyshon Pickett had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Forward Auston Barnes, who scored 12 points for Bradley on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, wasn’t surprised by Knight’s performance.
Barnes and Knight were teammates last season at Odessa (Texas) College.
“He got it going early. He’s a streaky shooter,” said Barnes. “He saw them go through at first and he kept drilling.”
ISU got off to a blazing start. Knight scored the Redbirds’ first seven points as ISU took a 13-2 lead.
But Lemon got untracked and the Redbird went cold from the perimeter and at the line. Lemon tied the game on a drive at 18-all before the Braves took a 20-18 lead on Ka’Darryl Bell’s two free throws.
ISU was 1 of 9 on 3-pointers and 1 of 7 at the line before Lee sank a shot outside the arc and made two free throws to put ISU ahead, 29-26. The Redbirds settled for a 30-27 halftime lead.
The Redbirds, who were 29 of 32 at the line against Evansville on Wednesday, finished 12 of 22.
ISU faces Missouri State at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday at Redbird Arena.