Tyler Brown will be among four ISU seniors honored Wednesday night at Redbird Arena. (Photo by B Corbin/WJBC)
By Bryan Bloodworth
Illinois State coach Dan Muller admits the Redbirds aren’t playing to the level they were heading into the Wichita State game a week ago.
But he’s also quick to point out they aren’t playing anywhere near the level they were two months ago when the Redbirds went through a six-game losing streak.
“We’re not where we were a week ago, but I don’t think were as broke as we were two months ago,” said Muller. “But we certainly need to get back to where we were. Because we’re not broke, we have to shore some things up. Emotionally we have to be right and then do the right things physically.”
The Redbirds will be out to snap a three-game skid Wednesday night at 7 when they entertain Missouri State in a Missouri Valley Conference game at 7 at Redbird Arena. ISU is 16-13 overall and 7-9 in league action.
“Guarding them is not easy,” said Muller, whose team suffered a 62-55 setback to the Bears earlier in the season at Springfield, Mo. “They have a couple of guards who can really score the ball, so we have to do a good job defensively. Other than that, rebounding is always a big key for us.”
It’s also Senior Night where Jackie Carmichael, Tyler Brown, John Wilkins and Anthony Cousins will be honored in pre-game ceremonies.
“A lot of people don’t understand the emotion that goes into playing in Redbird Arena for the last time after so many practices, shots and games,” said Muller. “It will be critical those four guys go out with the right mindset and play with a lot of emotion and energy, but not get emotionally drained too early.”
Muller also said the Redbirds need to regain their focus.
“We certainly took a step back at Evansville,” he added regarding a 79-62 loss. “We were two steps slow. Again, unfortunately, we had a hangover and I think it obviously affected a guy or two at Utah State. The first half at Utah State we were pretty good, but the second half we had too many breakdowns. We can’t have let that happen.”
Missouri State is coming into the game fresh off a BracketBuster victory at Eastern Michigan to hike its record to 9-20. The Bears are 6-10 in the Valley and a game behind ISU in the standings.
A victory by ISU would go a long way in keeping the Redbirds out of a dreaded play-in game in the upcoming conference tournament.
“We don’t need to talk to the guys about where we are at and what this game means in regards to the tournament,” said Muller. “They are all smart guys and know where we’re at.”
ISU has been getting most of its scoring production from Jackie Carmichael and Tyler Brown of late. Brown became just the third player in the nation to score 30 or more points in two games this year when he netted 35 at Utah State. Carmichael added 20 as the two combined for 55 of the team’s 71 points.
“I’m concerned a little bit that other guys aren’t making shots,” said Muller. “But if Jackie and Tyler can get 25 and 30, I’m all for it. We just have two or three guys, in particular, who have missed some shots they normally make. We have to get those guys outside of practice to see the ball go in the basket, taking the right shots and making them.”
Point guard Johnny Hill struggled last week, missing all 11 shots he took from the field and had seven turnovers with just six assists.
“Johnny is not playing with the same confidence and free mind he had before the Wichita State game,” admitted Muller. “Johnny cares a lot. He’s got to try and handle his emotions a little better and understand we all believe in him and trust him. Hopefully, he can get back to playing with that high confidence level and emotional level he was for most of the year.”
On a side note, Muller said it’s doubtful reserve guard Nick Ziesloft will be ready to return to action against Missouri State. Ziesloft has been out with an knee injury since the Bradley game two weeks ago.
“I don’t think he’s why we’ve lost, but we do miss him,” said Muller. “He gives us a presence on the perimeter on offense and good length on defense. We had a good rotation going (with him). It’s also affected our practices. We’re pretty limited on practice numbers, but it’s just part of the deal and we have to respond to it.”
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at email@example.com