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DES MOINES, Iowa - Illinois State's basketball team returns to the scene of the crime tonight when it faces Drake in a 7:05 Missouri Valley Conference game at the Knapp Center.

The last time the Redbirds won a road game in the Valley was Feb. 1 of last year when they defeated the Bulldogs, 59-58, on Neil Plank's tip-in basketball with three seconds remaining.

Since that time, the Redbirds have lost nine straight league games on the road and 11 overall, including nine in a row this year.

Both teams enter the game on losing streaks.

ISU has dropped three straight for an 8-13 overall record and 3-10 Valley mark. Drake has lost a season-high five straight for an 11-13 record and a 4-9 conference record. A victory by ISU would force a tie between the teams for sixth place in the league race.

ISU is coming off a 54-47 loss at Evansville and for the second game in a row the Redbirds struggled at the start of the game. They were a collective 3 for 16 from the field against Bradley (2 for 7) and Evansville (1 for 9) and didn't score a point in the first four minutes and six minutes, respectively.

"We have to get out of the gate early," said ISU coach Porter Moser. "If we had knocked down a couple of shots early, things are different. We have to continue to stay positive with the guys and try to grind out games like we did earlier in the year knowing we can't let up for one minute on defense."

Moser will start the ninth different lineup combination of the season, looking to get some offense going and find the right mix on the floor at the same time. Dana Ford, Levi Dyer and Khalif Ford will join Greg Dilligard and Plank in the starting unit.

"We have started out so poorly on offense lately that we'll keep searching," said Moser. "Levi has been trying to do some things defensively and rebounding in practice, and he gives you an offensive push.

"We'll probably flip Dana and Nedu (Onyeuku) to get Nedu coming off the bench and maybe give us that spark we need offensively. And maybe Dana can get us going by giving us a spark defensively."

Moser also said junior college transfer Roberto Fortes could get increased minutes, while senior Travis Wallace will not play because of a severely sprained ankle suffered in the Evansville game.

"Roberto has probably had his best week of practice this year," Moser continued. "I anticipate Roberto playing. He has really shot the ball well and he's really starting to get some concepts defensively."

Speaking of defense, that's Drake's trademark.

"There are two teams that really press you in this league and that's Creighton and Drake," Missouri State coach Barry Hinson said on last week's Valley teleconference. "But Drake runs a different type of press than Creighton. I don't think you ever get used to it.

"There is so much emphasis on their press, but it's also what they do guarding out-of-bounds and guarding sideline's out-of-bounds. They're always changing defenses. They are the most multiple defensive team we have in the league."

Drake coach Tom Davis said the Bulldogs' defense isn't necessarily built on quickness.

"It isn't how quick you are," he added. "It's instinct. Some players can just sort of read passing lanes and have that court vision. Like passers, they can see where the ball is going to go.

"You can develop that skill and certainly get better at it, but some are just naturally instinctive players who have a nose for the ball. Not every team can press and fast break. They have to have a will to do it."

This will be the Redbirds first look at Drake this season, which has been helped by the play of junior college transfers Ajay Calvin and Al Stewart.

"Al Stewart is ultra-quick," said Moser. "He is so explosive and that's what they want -a point guard with that kind of speed to run their different actions.

"Drake has really been playing well, especially at home against the top three teams in our league (one-point loss to Southern Illinois; two-point loss to Northern Iowa; and an overtime loss to Creighton).

"They throw a lot of different defensive looks at you that you have to prepare for. You're going to face pressing the whole game. You're going to face some (3-2) match-up zone and you're going to face man-to-man. Their fullcourt pressure is their trademark and their home crowd seems to get the press going even more."

Moser said the mindset of his team is good despite its reason struggles.

"They came right back at it Sunday," he said. "The attitude is good and they are working hard. The kids are trying to play so hard on defense. But because we are struggling on offense and with our shooting, it's becoming deflating because everyone is talking about it.

"The guys read the papers and the internet. They know. Our struggles on offense were an issue and now it's become more of an issue. We just can't let it become deflating with our effort and attitude.

"Our shooting has become such a big issue that it's just weighing on all their heads. We need to have a confidence game to get our shooting better and our offense better."


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