NORMAL - Porter Moser sent his Illinois State basketball team home to rest, relax and reflect during a three-day Christmas break.
"I told them to enjoy the time off with their families and think about what they can do to bring more to the team to make us successful," said Moser, who sent the Redbirds home following Thursday night's 69-59 overtime loss at Indiana State.
The team, which has a 5-4 record, returns to practice Monday night to begin preparation for Saturday's 2:05 p.m. Missouri Valley Conference game against Creighton at Redbird Arena.
"We'll try to enjoy this time off, but it would have been more enjoyable if we had gone home with a win," said senior Neil Plank following ISU's third straight loss Thursday. "That was the third close game in a row we lost.
"We're right there to turn the corner. We could easily be 8-1. We have to enjoy the time off with our family, then come back and get to work and figure out how to win some games."
The Redbirds had plenty of opportunities to win their Valley opener against Indiana State, which moved its overall record to 8-0.
"We had a lot of opportunities to make shots," said Moser, whose team shot 41 percent from the field. "We missed a lot of layups, and free throws and we didn't finish plays. Guys have to make plays at the end of games and we didn't.
"We have to learn from it. Part of the growth of a program is learning how to win and finding ways to win. What makes a team is guys having an understanding of how to win games."
The Redbirds had the ball and two chances to win in the final 27 seconds of regulation, but didn't get off a shot.
"I don't think he realized how wide open he was," said Indiana State's David Moss referring to Plank, who received an inbounds pass just to the left of the top of the key from Brandon Holtz with 3.2 seconds remaining. "When I saw how open he was I just tried to get there as fast as I could."
Rather than take the shot, Plank tried to drive the lane and was never able to attempt a shot.
"Obviously, there was disappointment that we didn't get the shot off at the end of regulation," said Moser. "We had a chance to win, but it didn't happen."
Indiana State coach Royce Waltman said his team dodged a bullet.
"We almost looked defeated coming back to the huddle because we couldn't win the game in regulation," Waltman continued. "I told the team we have to treat it as a great opportunity. We played with more life in the overtime than we did in the entire game."
Indiana State hit the Redbirds with a 6-0 run in the first 20 seconds of overtime, and a 13-2 spree in the first three minutes, to win going away.
"Our guys are more confident and willing to step up this year," added Waltman, whose team has won two overtime games and three other close games in its eight-game winning streak. "Some of it is luck, but it seems like somebody's come through every game.
"Last year we lost all those close games. Nobody would make a play at the end. Some of it this year is good fortune, but I think a lot of it is that we have several guys who aren't afraid to make plays."
Illinois State was hurt at the free-throw line for the second straight game. Indiana State was 33 of 43, while the Redbirds were 8 of 17.
In the last two outings, opponents have committed 30 fouls to ISU's 58 and have made 64 of 82 free throws. They have made 23 of 27 in the first half, while the Redbirds have attempted only one and missed it. Overall, ISU is 11 of 23 from the line.
"We're losing the battle at the free-throw line, especially in the first half," said Moser. "I wish I could explain it, but it's not because we're fouling out of frustration or because our defense hasn't been solid.
"When you can go into their arena and hold a motion offense team to 34 percent shooting in regulation, that's very good. We've had some aggressive fouls, but …" ISU limited Indiana State to 36 percent shooting overall.
"We thought points would be hard to come by," said Waltman. "They guarded well. We couldn't get any rhythm. They took too many things away from us."
A bright spot for Illinois State was the play of junior forward Greg Dilligard, who scored a career-high 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the second double-double of his career.
"I'd take a win over the points," said Dilligard, who moved his game outside more by hitting five jump shots from the 15-foot range. "It came down to making plays and we didn't. We have to learn that small things count. We have to learn to make plays and win."
Waltman was impressed with Dilligard's ability to hit the outside jumper.
"I've always been a Greg Dilligard fan," said Waltman. "I liked the kid in high school and he has worked so hard to become a better player. I was surprised that he could step out and make shots like that.
"I knew he would defend. I knew he would block shots. I knew he would rebound. He's long and he can finish, but I did not expect him to go to 15 feet and make shots. He had a big night."
Moser shook up the starting lineup, replacing Mike Vandello with Dinma Odiakosa and Khalif Ford with Nedu Onyeuku. Plank started at the point.
"Neil has been taking care of the ball," said Moser of the changes. "And we needed some defensive rebounding. Dinma's been doing really well in practice. The last few games Dinma has really gotten good deep post position.
"He's been making shots in practice. When he settles down and makes a couple in games, he'll really blossom. He is playing great defense. He gives us energy. Right now, he's just rushing his shots."
Odiakosa was 1 for 4 from the field and had two rebounds. He wound up playing 20 minutes after seeing just two minutes of action in the first half because of two quick fouls.