NORMAL — It might have been a rocky start this season for Will Ransom. Yet Illinois State's junior appears to be finding his way on and off the court.
The 6-foot-8, 252-pound Ransom, twice suspended for a game for conduct detrimental to the team in the first five weeks, has become a valuable player in the Redbirds' rotation, especially with Reggie Lynch nursing an ailing lower back.
Ransom, who plays with a scowl on his face, could be needed again Wednesday. ISU (8-6) takes on Drake (3-11) at 7 p.m. at Redbird Arena in a battle of 0-2 teams in the Missouri Valley Conference.
"He does have an edge and gives us a different look defensively with his quickness at the 5 (center spot)," said ISU coach Dan Muller. "Will has been very good at times with some things."
Ransom scored a season-high seven points and played 19 minutes in Sunday's 70-62 loss at No. 16-ranked Wichita State. The sold-out Charles Koch Arena crowd was screaming when Ransom flattened standout guard Ron Baker while setting a pick.
"It was a legal screen," said Ransom, which the officials agreed on after watching a replay. "Wichita did not like that."
Lynch has been slowed the past couple weeks with his sore back, while forward Deontae Hawkins has missed all but four minutes of the last five games with a stress reaction in his foot.
That has forced Muller into calling upon Ransom more. While not a primary scoring option, the results have generally been positive for the junior college transfer from Daytona (Fla.) State College.
"I try to make plays and create openings for my teammates and get down on the floor, the hustle plays," said Ransom, who has averaged 16.4 minutes in the past five games. "Those plays help win games, the little things. A lot of people overlook that."
Ransom admitted he overlooked some things off the court, which resulted in Muller suspending him for an exhibition game and against DePaul.
The ISU coach's message seems to have gotten through loud and clear.
"I've learned that Coach always holds you accountable and is sticking to his philosophy to build a better man and not just using you for basketball," said Ransom. "He wants you to be a better person, student and athlete. He's not going to sugarcoat it for you and let you continue doing something that's not going to benefit you in life."
Ransom, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, had some extra motivation in Wichita. His 2-year-old daughter, Sanaiya, who lives in Texas, saw Ransom play for the first time as a Redbird.
"When I picked her up (after the game) she didn't want to let go," he said. "It was hard for me to get back on that bus and head back to Bloomington."
The Redbirds are trying to figure out how to play at home with as much effort as they showed against Wichita State. ISU is 4-3 at Redbird Arena, including a 63-61 loss to Indiana State to begin the Valley season last week.
"We have to take way more pride in our home court, and it needs to start right away because we have not performed very well," said Muller.
Second-year Drake coach Ray Giacoletti, a former ISU assistant under Bob Bender in the 1990s, is in a rebuilding mode with the Bulldogs.
Two of Drake's main pieces are 7-foot, 251-pound sophomore center Jacob Enevold Jensen, who had 12 points and 15 rebounds last week against Wichita State, and Reid Timmer. The freshman guard leads the league in free throw percentage (.932) and is the second-leading rookie scorer (10.5 points per game).
DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell could be rejoining the Redbirds shortly. The junior swingman, who is ISU's second-leading scorer (14.1 ppg), is now wearing a splint on his right hand after surgery for a broken metacarpal bone. Hawkins didn't make the trip to Wichita to stay at home and rehab his foot.
Muller said he is not sure when either will be ready.