By: Sammy Stava
It was unfamiliar territory for Dan Muller and the Illinois State Redbirds having to play on Thursday night in the first-round game. What isn’t unfamiliar to them is winning in St. Louis.
And that’s what they did against No. 10 Evansville, but the Aces gave Illinois State all they could handle in a 65-60 final. Playing in his final Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, former SLU guard Milik Yarbrough led his Redbirds team with 18 points on the night. 16 of those 18 points came in the second half. Another senior who came up huge was Phil Fayne adding a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Though Illinois State’s defense was the real story on Thursday night as they held Evansville to just a .295 shooting percentage (18/61), which was the third fewest baskets made in a Missouri Valley Tournament game and the third worst shooting percentage.
“This time of year, survive and advance, that’s all that matters,” – head coach Dan Muller said about the win. Illinois State did survive, but at one point, the Redbirds led 44-33 at the second half but Evansville wouldn’t go away and went on a 12-0 run to take a 45-44 lead.
“I didn’t expect them to go away. We knew we were going to have to fight for do minutes, and I’m sure they expected the same thing from us. It’s fun to compete and play hard and compete and stuff. So I’m cool with it,” – senior guard Keshawn Evans said about the team’s win.
He’s also cool with keeping his senior season alive.
With the win, Illinois State advances to play No. 2 Drake Friday night at 6:00 p.m. CT on 550 KTRS. The Redbirds have won two straight MVC Quarterfinal games, but are going to have to get past the regular season champions to make it three in a row.