NORMAL - Illinois State's defensive-minded basketball team came close to a Redbird Arena record in the first half Tuesday night by limiting Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne to 13 points, two above the previous low.
The Redbirds closed the deal in the second half, holding the Mastodons to an opponent's all-time Redbird Arena low of 36 total points in registering a 65-36 nonconference victory before 5,181 people. The previous Arena record for futility by a visiting team was 37 by Indiana State on Valentine's Day, 2004.
"They played much better defense than we saw on film," said Mastodons' coach Dane Fife, whose team became the fifth straight opponent to be held under 52 points by ISU this season in five home games.
"They are just so physical and you can't really see that on film," continued Fife, whose team was the third to be held to 31 percent shooting from the field by the Redbirds. The Mastodons made only 14 of 45 shots and just 1 of 14 within five feet of the basket in the second half.
"They really make it hard for you to get into your offense. We never got in the flow," Fife added. "We couldn't shoot and you can't win ball games shooting like that. I would not be surprised if they finish at the top half of the Missouri Valley (Conference). They are just so tough.
"They have a little trouble scoring baskets at this point. But they didn't have trouble scoring against us. I think once they get those younger guys going, Illinois State will be at the top of their league."
The victory was the fourth in a row for ISU and moved its record to 5-1 ahead of Saturday's 7:05 p.m. nonconference home game against Georgia Southern. The Redbirds haven't won five straight since the NIT season of 2000-01.
ISU's offense broke loose for a season-high 65 points, despite only senior Neil Plank finishing in double figures with 10 points. Freshman guard Eric Vianney came off the bench to add a career-high nine points on 3-of-3 marksmanship from 3-point range.
"I've just been waiting for Coach to call me every day," said Vianney, who played a career-high eight minutes. "My teammates helped me to look good. I came from the bench through hard work in practice. I feel like I have to bring something to the team, so I'm ready every time Coach calls me."
The Redbirds shot 48 percent from the field, including 58 percent in the first half when they jumped to a 30-13 halftime lead. Plank had all his points in the first half. The Redbirds had an assist on all 11 baskets in the first half and 19 on 22 baskets for the game.
"Think about it, we have our season-high point total and our leading scorer has 10 points," said ISU coach Porter Moser. "I'm really pleased that we had 19 assists on 22 baskets."
Plank, who spelled Khalif Ford at the point guard spot except when Vianney was in, finished with a career-high seven assists and five rebounds. Greg Dilligard led in rebounding with a game-high seven as ISU owned a 37-25 advantage.
"When your teammates are knocking down shots, it's easy to rack up some assists," said Plank. "There were a lot of end-of-shot-clock plays and if you give somebody the ball and they make a shot, it's not really your thing. It's more their performance.
"My role at point guard is to come in and be solid and try not to do anything flashy. I just have to get the team in the offense and then everything kind of gels from there. But the way Eric has been playing, he might be playing a little more (at the point)."
Moser said his team was obviously thrilled to set a record for defense in the 17th year of Redbird Arena.
"I really don't think about records, but the guys are excited," said Moser. "I was pleased with the effort and intensity. As a coach you can just ask the guys to play really hard and be into it, and I thought they did that.
"We've been talking about our defense and really been challenging the guards. We've been telling them that they've been riding the coat tails of our post players. I thought the guards had their best effort defensively. They accepted the challenge and were really in tune with guarding the motion offense.
"Motion offense isn't easy to defense. Most of the teams we've been playing run a lot of sets. Through sets, you can scout. You can let the players know what's coming. But the motion offense the way they run it, it's a lot of reads. There is no set continuity. You have to stay down and ready. You have to stay in a stance because there are screens coming from all areas."
Plank agreed, saying "for us (to set the record) this game says a lot about our team. Coach Moser came out and challenged a lot of us to pick up our defense and shut down a motion team. You can't really scout a motion team. It's more on you to take stuff away.
"I thought our team defense was really good. For us to break the record is pretty exciting because we've been stressing defense all year."
The Mastodons outscored ISU, 10-3, to start the second half to cut their deficit to 33-23. They got as close as nine on two occasions before ISU scored seven unanswered points to gain a 45-29 lead at the 8:49 mark.
Ronnie Carlwell, a 42 percent career free throw shooter, made 3 of 4 charity tosses during the run. ISU then put together a 16-6 surge that gave it a 29-point bulge with two minutes remaining.
"In the game program, they called us a Division II team and that's what we played like tonight," said Fife, whose team has a 2-5 record.
Kyle Savely led the Mastodons with nine points, while Tyler Best had six rebounds.
Dilligard blocked two shots to move ahead of Jarrod Coleman into sixth place on the school's all-time list with 75. LeRoy Watkins holds the record with 143.