CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Anyone who thinks Illinois State's basketball team is crushed and given up on the season after another punch in the gut hasn't talked to William Tinsley or his teammates.
"It's like last year. We were in this predicament and made it to the championship (game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament)," said the senior guard from Colfax. "We have to play hard and keep it in as a family. That's all we need is our family and we know what we can do.”
The first time a halfcourt shot beat ISU this season, in the MVC opener on Jan. 2 against Valparaiso, the Redbirds recovered with a 12-point victory in their next game. ISU hopes for a similar fate when it takes on Northern Iowa at 7 p.m. Wednesday at McLeod Center.
Jarred Dixon's halfcourt heave Sunday gave Missouri State a 66-65 win over ISU. That dropped the Redbirds (14-11) into a second-place tie in the league standings with the Bears and Drake, two games behind Loyola with six left.
To make matters worse, ISU's flight home Sunday was delayed and the team had to land in Peoria before waiting for a bus to take them back to campus.
Still, Redbird coach Dan Muller liked how his players responded in practice Monday.
"For me it was easier because we've been through it once and we made way less mistakes to lose than the Valpo game," said Muller. "There's no time for looking back or feeling sorry for yourself. I think we'll be OK, but it was certainly tough in the moment."
Going on the road again and not hearing the outside noise could be best for ISU, said Tinsley.
The Redbirds played well at Missouri State, but defensive breakdowns in the last two minutes gave the Bears a chance for a miracle finish. ISU's previous road game was a solid 69-55 win at Drake two weeks ago.
"The outside people don't know the work we've put in,” said Tinsley. “Collectively, we have to keep working hard and doing good things and the basketball gods will reward us.”
Muller was pleased with how hard the Redbirds competed at Missouri State after a disappointing effort in a 69-53 loss to Valpo at Redbird Arena five days earlier. Phil Fayne led the way with 22 points, while Milik Yarbrough added 17.
"Offensively we executed. Milik and Phil were great," said Muller. "Phil had a great bounce-back game (after scoring 13 points in the two previous games). We played a team that's really hot and played them well.
"This team hasn't let things linger. which has been great. I've always said it, their attitudes have been really good and I love them to death."
Tinsley has come off the bench in the MVC season after starting 11 of the first 13 nonconference games. He didn't even play in two early Valley games, but has averaged 23.2 minutes in the last five games.
"I'm just accepting my role and being a good team player and being all in for the team," said Tinsley. "If the team wins and we play good defense, that's all that matters. If coming off the bench is my role I have to accept it to a T and play 100 percent when I get in.”
UNI (10-15) is trying to avoid the play-in round when the MVC Tournament begins March 7 in St. Louis. The Panthers are tied for seventh at 5-7, but are only two games behind the second-place pack.
ISU squeaked out a 70-69 victory over UNI on Jan. 8 at Redbird Arena. The Panthers have lost three of their last four games, including a pair last week to Bradley and Drake when UNI averaged 74 points and gave up an un-UNI-like 81.
“Offensively in terms of points per possession and the way we've executed we've been fine and good enough to win a basketball game on both those days,” said UNI coach Ben Jacobson. “But our defense and rebounding have not been good enough.”
Stopping UNI's outside shooting concerns Muller. Trae Berhow (48.7 percent) and Spencer Haldeman (44 percent) are fifth and sixth, respectively, in 3-point shooting during MVC games while Wyatt Lohaus has made 7 of 10 from outside the arc the last four games.
“That's always a challenge when you have a bunch of guys on the court who can make shots,” said Muller.