SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The challenge for Phil Fayne was to reassert himself as a dominant low-post presence after foul troubles had limited him the last six games.
Illinois State's 6-foot-9 senior forward responded positively with a game-high 22 points on Sunday, making 9 of 13 shots from the field. But that was little consolation for Fayne or his teammates.
Missouri State pulled out a miraculous 66-65 victory as Jarred Dixon banked in a half-court shot at the buzzer. It was reminiscent of Markus Golder's bomb for Valparaiso that stunned ISU in the Missouri Valley Conference opener on Jan. 2.
However, Golder wasn't on Fayne's mind when Dixon retrieved a loose ball near halfcourt with time winding down at JQH Arena.
“I was just thinking about getting the ball. It's a tough way to lose, especially twice like that,” said Fayne. “Right now it's human for people to feel down because of the way we lost before. It's repetitive. It's not a good feeling.”
Muller challenged Fayne in practice this week to stay out of foul trouble that limited him to 13 points combined in the last two games. Fayne only played 16 minutes in Tuesday's 69-53 loss to Valparaiso at Redbird Arena.
Fayne was in attack mode from the opening tip Sunday. Missouri State played him straight up with 6-8 Tulio Da Silva, and Fayne scored 14 points in the first half to help ISU take a 32-27 lead.
“We've elected to defend people one-on-one,” said Missouri State coach Dana Ford. “At the eight-minute media (timeout) it was the first time in however many games we almost started to double team because he's a (preseason) first-team all-conference player and is so mobile and an active scorer.”
Fayne didn't think his performance was anything out of the ordinary.
“My job is to be strong down low and everything,” he said. “When they were feeding me I was just handling it and doing my job.”
Fayne's only blemish was going 4 of 9 at the free throw line, including a crucial miss after making the front end of a one-and-bonus with 50.4 seconds left. The left-hander has rectified his free throw troubles this season and came into the game shooting 67.9 percent at the line.
“He missed some free throws there. We needed that. He knows it. He's hard on himself,” said Muller. “Phil is a guy who accepts accountability, and we'll need it again on Wednesday (at Northern Iowa). We'll keep going to him. Not being in foul trouble was a big part of it and him being able to play 31 minutes.”
The Redbirds weren't about to play the blame game afterwards, either about Fayne's free throw misses or Matt Chastain's errant inbounds pass that set up the unbelievable finish.
“We're brothers at the end of the day,” said ISU senior Milik Yarbrough, who contributed 17 points and six rebounds. “Whatever happens, happens. I love them, they love me and we love our coaches. We're going to come back in practice tomorrow and go over things and make sure we come out hard against Northern Iowa the next game.”