ISU's Dan Muller (Photo by B Corbin/WJBC)
By Bryan Bloodworth
Dan Muller has been with teams as both a player and coach that have gone through tough times, but never anything like he is experiencing now as the first-year coach at Illinois State.
“Not to the level we are playing now,” Muller said Monday when asked if he had been through such an up-and down ride in such a short period of time.
In a matter of 18 days, ISU has gone from a top 50 RPI team with a 9-3 record to its current 9-8 record and a 164 RPI rating with a five-game losing streak.
“We played well in the non-conference – not perfect – against some very good teams and showed some toughness on the road,” added Muller. “But things can go bad quickly and it never gets good quickly. It’s a sensitive, delicate balance.
“I’ve been on teams where it's gone bad, but we were able to get it corrected quicker. But to have this (playing poorly) so long after having played so well, I’ve never a part of.
"A lot of it goes to our defense. We’re giving up 48 percent from the field in the conference. You don’t win many games like that. We have to play with intensity and get some individuals playing better. We have to sustain that for 40 minutes.”
Muller also said for the first time Sunday he sensed a different feeling among the team following its loss to Drake at home Saturday after letting a nine-point halftime lead slip away.
“Our mindset going into the Drake game was very, very good,” he continued. “We played a good first half, then we came out in the second half – and it’s unexplicable to me why – and played with such low energy. It’s my job to figure it out.
“Yesterday (Sunday) the guys were probably down for the first time. They’ve been angry and not happy after losses, but I haven’t seen their heads drop. We have to keep the morale of the team high, but we have to understand we have to play better and with more intensity.”
Muller has tried different tactics to motivate the Redbirds from quotes to videos to examples.
“But I basically told the team yesterday those motivations are over,” said Muller. “You talk enough and if you don’t produce at one point it’s time to just get it done. That’s where we’re at now. It’s time to man up and play with intensity for the entire 40 minutes.”
ISU senior and team leader Jackie Carmichael said the team is still very close and committed to each other.
“We had some meetings as players,” said Carmichael. “It’s time for us to motivate ourselves. Coach has given us a lot of motivation, but right now it comes down to self-motivation. We have to really want it.”
Neither Carmichael nor Johnny Hill is blaming the team’s slide on distractions caused by the arrest of teammate Geoffrey Allen on drug charges or the suspension of second-leading scorer Tyler Brown.
“Tyler has talked with us and we know how he feels about the situation,” said Hill.
Muller said Brown’s suspension is day-to-day, but that he will travel with the team to Wichita State for Wednesday’s game. Brown did participate in practice on Monday.
“He has to practice with us before he plays,” said Muller, who added that Brown did not practice Sunday.
“We understand that stuff happens and not everyone is perfect,” added Carmichel. “We understand that people go through things. As a team and as a group of brothers, we have to be there for that person. We can’t hold that against them. That’s not our place to do that.
“We are there for them if they need to talk. Other than that we don’t really draw too much attention to it. We understand a situation happened and we just move on from there.”
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at lefty@wjbc