NORMAL — Milik Yarbrough gave the home crowd a taste of what the next two seasons might bring Sunday. Yet Illinois State's 6-foot-6 junior forward was already thinking about the next challenge.
Yarbrough, who sat out last season after transferring from Saint Louis, scored 25 points, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out three assists. William Tinsley added 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting outside the arc as ISU rolled past Lewis, 79-52, in an exhibition game before a Redbird Arena crowd of 4,066.
"We didn't come in to play against Lewis. We came in to get better and compete at the highest level we can," said Yarbrough. "We're past that game now and focusing on Florida Gulf Coast."
ISU travels to face Florida Gulf Coast at noon (CT) Saturday in the season opener at Fort Myers, Fla.
There were a lot of positives for the short-handed Redbirds in their lone exhibition game. ISU had only eight scholarship players available because of injuries.
The Redbirds held Lewis, a Division II school playing its third exhibition against a Missouri Valley Conference team, to 36.7 percent shooting. ISU grabbed a 41-27 rebounding advantage and hit 41.4 percent (12 of 29) of its 3-point shots.
While Redbird coach Dan Muller wasn't pleased with his team's 16 turnovers, he termed the outing "overall a good day and a lot to learn from."
"There were nerves at the beginning. We have a lot of new players and faces," said Muller. "We had only three guys who had played a game in a Redbird uniform before today. I thought we really guarded today, and that was my main focus."
Lewis, which lost to Bradley (71-58) and Loyola (79-63), was ahead 21-20 after Dre Bell's 3-pointer with 6:12 left in the first half.
But starting with Tinsley's third 3-pointer that broke a 24-all tie, the Redbirds closed the half on a 14-5 run to take a 38-29 lead at the intermission.
ISU started the second half in a zone. The Flyers missed their first five shots and committed four turnovers as the Redbirds scored the first 14 points, opening a 52-29 lead on freshman Taylor Bruninga's 3-pointer with 14:53 left.
"Our defense was on point today," said Tinsley. "Coach said compete on every possession and don't take a play off."
Tinsley, a 6-6 junior guard from Colfax who transferred from Lake Land College, didn't show any nerves after making his first two 3-pointers at the start of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds.
"It's an exhibition game, but that was impressive," said Muller of Tinsley's performance. "Dream school, home crowd, first game and he stepped up. He really took a bad shot for the first shot and makes it. That takes some guts."
While Yarbrough didn't start, he quickly made his presence felt. Yarbrough smoothly initiated ISU's offense, and when he wasn't driving through the defense was able to find open shooters. ISU was plus-32 with Yarbrough in the game.
"Our team is better when he's competing and in the game," said Muller. "He was hard to guard today, rebounds like he usually does and shot it well, which he's been working on a lot."
When asked if Yarbrough will start at Florida Gulf Coast, Muller said, "We have no plan until we see what they do in practice every day. I start the guys who compete and deserve to start."
Phil Fayne contributed 12 points and six rebounds. Fayne, who didn't take a 3-pointer last season, was one of six Redbirds to convert from outside the arc.
The 6-8 Bruninga tied Yarbrough with eight rebounds to go with nine points.
Lewis was paced by Jake Reinhart, a Central Catholic High School graduate. The 6-2 redshirt sophomore guard scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including 2 of 3 on 3-pointers.
"Jake was our best player. He came out and played with confidence. We need that out of him," said Lewis coach Scott Trost, a former Illinois Wesleyan coach. "It was good to see him get a lot of minutes and play well in front of a lot of family and friends."
Trost wasn't as pleased with the rest of his team.
"We've done this for 12 years and like 23 exhibition games, and we've been competitive in all of them. We weren't competitive today, and why that is I don't know," he said.
Adams honored: Longtime ISU public address announcer Steve Adams was presented the Missouri Valley Conference Most Courageous Award by commissioner Doug Elgin during a halftime ceremony.
Adams, who has been the PA announcer for Redbird home basketball games for 40 years, was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in March. He is undergoing treatment.