NORMAL — Foul trouble, such as what he encountered Saturday against Wichita State, might have handcuffed MiKyle McIntosh earlier in his Illinois State basketball career.
The 6-foot-7, 234-pound junior forward stayed aggressive and produced 20 points, five rebounds and four assists in a 76-62 victory that gave ISU sole possession of the Missouri Valley Conference lead for the first time since 1998.
Another reward came Monday when McIntosh was named MVC Player of the Week. In the two wins over Southern Illinois and Wichita State that boosted ISU to 14-4 overall and 6-0 in the league, McIntosh contributed 27 points, 12 rebounds and four assists while shooting 60 percent from the field and 89 percent at the line.
“We have him playing a little lower and a little more explosive, quicker with the ball,” said ISU coach Dan Muller during Monday’s MVC coaches teleconference.
“Obviously he’s improved his shooting a ton. We used to have to be on him for playing hard in practice, and we haven’t had to do that I think once this year.”
It is the third time this season ISU has taken the Player of the Week award. Paris Lee was honored on Dec. 5 and 19.
McIntosh was named the MVC Most Improved Player last season when he averaged 10.9 points and 4.8 rebounds. He was named to the preseason all-MVC first team this season and has taken his game up another notch with a team-high 14.6 scoring mark and 6.5 rebounds.
Against Wichita State, McIntosh made 7-of-9 field goal attempts and 5-of-5 free throws. During MVC action, McIntosh is producing 17.0 points and 6.8 rebounds.
“I worked on a lot of different things in the offseason,” said McIntosh. “But I really worked on the mid-post area. I watched some pro athletes do it. It really helps and really works. I watched some of their moves and copied some of their moves and worked on it all summer.”
ISU, which is on a seven-game winning streak, faces Interstate 74 rival Bradley (8-11, 3-3) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Carver Arena in Peoria. The game will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.
The Redbirds also received a vote in this week’s USA Today coaches’ top 25 poll. ISU has moved to No 27 in the Collegiate Basketball News RPI rankings. The MVC is ranked No. 12 among 32 conferences.
‘Special Ops’ paying off: Muller created a “Special Ops” unit this season. It is reserved for those players who have proven to be a good defender for a long period of time. McIntosh was recently inducted into the group, joining Lee, Tony Wills and Deontae Hawkins.
“It’s motivation for the guys, and they’ve really bought into it," said Muller. “It goes with some of the other special themes for our team, which I’m not going to get into. They get excited when they join. As I told them, once you get in it’s not a lifetime membership. You have to stay in.”
ISU has moved to fourth in the nation in defensive field goal percentage at .375. The Redbirds’ season record is .402 set in the 1996-97 campaign when Muller was named MVC Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
The Redbirds hold a ceremony during practice when a new member joins the “Special Ops” group.
“I do think it is part of the reason we’re guarding well is because they’re taking pride in their defense and want to be in that ops unit,” said Muller. “They get a couple little extra things here and there, but it’s more about pride.”
Around the league: UNI’s Jeremy Morgan, the Preseason MVC Player of the Year, returned to the lineup after missing a game with an ankle injury. Morgan scored 21 points as the Panthers (6-11, 1-5) won their first league game and broke a seven-game losing streak with a 79-60 win over Drake on Sunday ... UNI junior guard Wyatt Lohaus remains out with an ankle injury. The Panthers could seek a medical redshirt for Lohaus if he doesn’t play again this season …
Missouri State coach Paul Lusk said there is no update on junior guard Ronnie Rousseau (11.6 ppg), who has missed the last three games and taken a leave of absence for “personal reasons” … Loyola junior forward Aundre Jackson earned MVC Newcomer of the Week. Jackson averaged 20.0 points and 5.0 points while shooting 73.7 percent from the field as the Ramblers split a pair of games.