David Ndiaye and Matt Hein were back at it Wednesday night at Redbird Arena. It’s been a while since it’s been like this … looking for each other, making plays for one another, growing weary together as the game marched on.
Former teammates at Windermere Prep in Florida and on AAU teams, they brought a connection to Normal three years ago. A redshirt year for Hein and injuries to Ndiaye delayed seeing it play out in Illinois State uniforms.
But there it was Wednesday, both setting or matching career-highs in minutes and contributing a combined 16 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and one steal to a 70-57 victory over rival Bradley.
“That’s what we dreamed of. That’s why we came here together,” said Hein, a 6-foot-3 guard who had eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a steal.
“That chemistry between us is something you can’t explain, whether it’s off the court, on the court, in practice, in the weight room. We just go well together. It showed out there and I’m happy we got the W.”
Hein’s 32 minutes eclipsed his career high of 31 set on New Year’s Eve against Indiana State. Ndiaye’s 27 minutes were his most since returning from a stress fracture in his foot six games ago and tied his career high from last year, also against Bradley.
The 7-foot Ndiaye had eight points, a career-high 12 rebounds, two blocks and one assist. He relished sharing the moment with Hein, who joined him in the starting lineup.
“It brings back a lot of memories, him passing me the ball and me shooting it,” Ndiaye said, smiling broadly. “It’s somebody I enjoy playing with. I can read him and he can read me. That’s something I look forward to doing more.”
When Ndiaye and Hein arrived on campus, they had already lived together for nearly three years. They did not live together when they moved to Normal, choosing to live across the hall from one another in the dorm.
“We wanted a change,” Hein said. “We were like, ‘Let’s try something different.’ It’s like brothers. You don’t want to be in the same room as your brother all the time. But the chemistry is there. I love it.”
There was a lot to love from both on the court Wednesday. Hein had six of his points in an offensively challenged first half that ISU coach Dan Muller later called “brutal.”
Neither team could find a rhythm on offense, but with 6-9 junior Phil Fayne missing nearly the entire half with two fouls, Hein helped pick up the scoring slack.
He doesn’t fancy himself a scorer … unless that’s what Muller needs from him.
“I see my role as sparking this team. My role is to do what coach wants,” Hein said. “Because of my intelligence, because of my versatility, I can play four positions. I try to provide that spark, whether it’s making a shot, making a pass, diving on the floor, getting a rebound … all of the above.”
Ndiaye gave ISU a much-needed presence inside on defense and his rebound total helped the Redbirds to a near-standoff on the boards (44-43 Bradley).
Ndiaye also sank a couple of 15-foot baseline jumpers. They may have surprised the crowd of 6,321, but not him.
“I’ve been working on that every day in practice. That’s where I shoot,” he said. “I love the 15-foot shot.
“It’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun. I’ve been trying to get back in shape. It was good to get out there with my teammates. Coach always says when I’m tired to keep pushing, keep pushing.”
Ndiaye drew high praise from his coach, with Muller calling his performance, “big-time.”
“That’s what we need from David,” Muller said. ““He played well, but he was more athletic, quicker, tougher and more physical. That’s why he played well.
“I said before he got hurt, that’s what he looked like every day in practice. I don’t know if he’ll get 12 rebounds every game, but he looked bigger and that’s what we need from David. I’m just really proud of the way he played.”
So was Hein, who said his longtime teammate “helps us tremendously.”
Both were a little tired afterward, but neither was complaining. They were tired together.
Just like old times.