NORMAL Illinois State’s basketball team played its heart out Tuesday on Valentine’s Day and was rewarded with a 58-56 overtime victory against Drake in Missouri Valley Conference action.
The triumph, which came before a Redbird Arena crowd of 4,326 people, snapped a five-game losing streak to improve ISU’s overall record to 9-15 and league mark to 4-12. Drake dropped to 12-15 and 5-11, respectively.
“The guys wanted to win so bad that it almost became a burden at key times,” said ISU coach Porter Moser. “You could just feel the weight on our guys’ shoulders. You could feel it at the end of regulation when it was tied. You could feel it in the overtime in terms of making plays.
“But we found a way to win and it was defense. In the second half to hold them to 28 percent shooting, and then in the overtime to hold them zero for eight, was key.”
Greg Dilligard’s basket off a pass from Levi Dyer deep in the post area with 1:43 remaining in the extra period broke a 55-all deadlock, where the game had ended in regulation. Neither team scored again until Drake’s Chaun Brooks was fouled with 22.4 seconds to go.
Brooks collided hard with Neil Plank while driving to the basket. Brooks, the team’s best free throw shooter at 86.6 percent, hurt his back and had to leave the game. Jacob Baryenbruch, an 87.5 percenter from the line, replaced Brooks.
Baryenbruch missed the first and made the second charity toss to cut the ISU lead to 57-56.
“I felt confident,” said Drake coach Tom Davis of sending Baryenbruch in the game. “He was the best we had to put out there in that situation.”
ISU’s Khalif Ford was fouled with 19.8 seconds and made the first of two free throws to give the Redbirds the 58-56 advantage.
“I just tried to stay positive and tell myself you know you’re a good free throw shooter,’ ” said Ford, who only scored that one point in the game. “It’s a mental thing at that point. I just tried to knock it down.”
Drake got off three shots in the final 10 seconds of overtime, including two potential game-winning 3-pointers. Chris Bryant tried to shoot the first 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining, but it was partially blocked by Dana Ford.
“It was a clean block,” said Bryant, who led Drake with 13 points.
The ball wound up in Al Stewart’s hands. He drove the lane and fired up a shot hard off the backboard with 4.2 seconds left. The ball bounced out to Brent Heemskerk, who jacked up a hurried 3-pointer just before the buzzer that missed the rim wide right.
“We had the shots. We just couldn’t get it to go down,” said Drake coach Tom Davis as the Bulldogs missed all eight of their shots in the overtime.
“We felt our best chance was for Al to go in there and penetrate and create,” added Davis, who chose not to call his final timeout to set up a play. “And, as it turned out, we got several good looks. We just didn’t get the one we could knock down.”
ISU’s Roberto Fortes scored a career-high 22 points on 8 of 13 shooting from the field, including 6 of 10 from 3-point range. His production tied Dilligard’s high for points scored in a game this season by an ISU player.
“We were pushing the ball on the break, finding the open guys and knocking down shots,” said Fortes, who made his first start of the season. “We were moving the ball very well, playing very unselfish like it’s supposed to be.”
ISU had 18 assists on its 21 baskets with Dana Ford leading the way with five. Dyer had four assists, while Dilligard blocked four shots.
“It seemed like everybody made one key play that helped us win the game toward the end,” added Fortes. “Our seniors and juniors our veterans all stepped up and made big plays for us.”
Dyer added 11 points, while Dana Ford had 10. Ford’s first 3-pointer snapped a streak of 18 straight misses from that range.
Dyer was 3 of 5 from 3-point range as the Redbirds were 11 of 25 from 3-point territory (44 percent). ISU made 41 percent of its overall shots and limited Drake to 31.6 shooting.
“It helps when you make shots,” said Moser. “Roberto and Levi can really stretch the defense.”
The Redbirds fought back from a seven-point deficit in the final 15 minutes. Two 3-pointers by Dyer, sandwiched around a 3-pointer by Fortes, gave ISU a 55-50 lead at the 1:24 mark. Dyer made his first 3-pointer at the 4:14 mark and Fortes added his two minutes later.
“I saw the pass coming down the court and my feet were set,” said Dyer of his clutch 3-pointer at the 1:24 mark. “I felt good, so I just shot it. I didn’t even look at the time. I just felt in rhythm.”
ISU’s defense shut off the Bulldogs on five straight possessions while Dyer and Fortes were making their 3-pointers. Bryant finally broke an 0 for 8 string of missed field goal attempts by hitting a 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining.
Brooks then tied the game at 55 with 28.6 seconds left after Dana Ford missed the front end of the one-and-bonus with 63 seconds to go.
ISU worked the ball for a final shot, but Stewart stepped in front of a pass on the perimeter intended for Dana Ford with three seconds left. Stewart flipped the ball to Brooks, who tried to get off a shot before the buzzer but to no avail, setting the stage for overtime.
Plank led the Redbirds with 10 rebounds, while Stewart tied a Valley record for steals in a game with nine.
ISU’s Nedu Onyeuku did not play because of a coach’s decision. He was not injured.