ISU entertains Northern Iowa at 7 p.m. Saturday at Redbird Arena. (Photo by B Corbin/WJBC)
By Bryan Bloodworth
Productive practices have led to increased playing time for Illinois State junior guard Zeke Upshaw. And that should come as no surprise to Redbird fans.
Coach Dan Muller has said from Day One that the guys who play hard and perform well in practice will be rewarded with playing time. Upshaw is a case in point.
After playing just a combined 40 minutes in the first seven games, Upshaw has logged 20 minutes at key moments in the last two games. He hasn’t disappointed either, scoring 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting from the field, including 6 for 9 from 3-point range.
Upshaw was 5 of 14 from the field, including a paltry 1 of 9 from 3-point territory, in the first seven games in a mop-up role in the games meaningless last few minutes.
“Zeke has been playing well in practice and I’ve always believed it’s the coach’s job to reward players for their effort,” said Muller ahead of Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. Missouri Valley Conference game against Northern Iowa at Redbird Arena.
“It’s not based on one practice either,” added Muller about his views of playing guys. “It’s based on a number of practices. Zeke has been playing well and shooting the ball well. I planned to get him in the game at Indiana State in the first half all along. He earned it.”
Upshaw and his teammates will be looking for their first Valley win of the season after losses at Indiana State and to Creighton. Like the Redbirds, who have a 9-5 overall record, Northern Iowa enters the game with a 0-2 league mark.
“All the games in the conference are important, but we probably need to play with a little more sense of urgency because it's a home game as well,” said Muller. “It’s my job to get the players motivated and ready to play with that sense of urgency.”
Northern Iowa has a 7-7 overall record and has two common opponents with ISU, both losing to Louisville and Indiana State. The Panthers also have losses to Stanford, Memphis, Iowa, Nevada-Las Vegas and Wichita State.
“I think everybody knew coming into the year that the league was going to be better,” said UNI coach Ben Jacobson. “There are a lot of good teams.
“The good news about this game is that somebody is going to get their first Valley win. Each game has a tremendous amount of importance and significance to it regardless what happened in the game before or who you play next because the league is so good.”
Sophomore guard Geoffrey Allen has returned to practice, but still is under undefinite suspension after being arrested on drug charges.
Muller said he is still waiting on information in the case before deciding when Allen could return to active status.
Also, 6-foot freshman guard Matt Stacho was on the bench in sweats Wednesday for the Creighton game and will be in uniform at some point this season.
The Naperville North High School graduate made the team as a walk-on during open tryouts before the season. Muller said Stacho has been cleared to join the team. His academic schedule limited his practice time during the fall semester.
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at email@example.com