Illinois State Redbirds (16-11, 7-8) at Evansville Aces (14-13, 7-8)
Missouri Valley Conference Game 16/18
Game Time: 7:05 p.m. Wednesday
Location: Ford Center
Broadcast: WUEV 91.5 FM
Spread: Illinois State -1.5 at Vegas Insider
UE’s Probable Starters: G Troy Taylor, G Ned Cox, F Colt Ryan, F Adam Wing, C Egidijus Mockevicius
Illinois State’s Probable Starters: G Bryant Allen, G Johnny Hill, G Tyler Brown, G/F John Wilkins, F Jackie Carmichael
Last Meeting: Illinois State beat UE 67-62 on Jan. 26 at Redbird Arena in Normal, Ill.
Series History: The Redbirds are 230-16 all-time against the Aces, who own a 12-10 series edge when playing on their home court.
Feb. 19: Aces want to prevent Illinois State free throws
Feb. 19: Beating Aces could keep Redbirds out of MVC play-in game
Feb. 18: Valley disciplines refs for wrong shooter at line in Illinois State game
Feb. 17: Illinois State loses to Wichita State on late 3-pointer
Feb. 16: Creighton comes back to deal UE first MVC home loss
—UE has won 12 of its first 15 home games this season, with the only defeat at the Ford Center in MVC play coming last Saturday to Creighton. The Aces have also won their last two home games against Illinois State.
—UE senior Colt Ryan now sits at 2,061 points for his career, second on the Aces’ all-time list behind Larry Humes’ 2,236. Ryan has four guaranteed games left to score the 175 points needed to tie. If he can somehow get seven more games this season, the points per game needed drops to a manageable 25.
—Over its last five games, Illinois State has made 36 more free throws than opponents even attempted. The charity stripe also played a key role in UE’s loss to the Redbirds earlier this season. While the Aces went 11 of 13 from the line, Illinois State got there 31 times in a 67-62 win. The Redbirds are 12-2 when they shoot more free throws than opponents.
—In his first start Saturday against Creighton, freshman Adam Wing set new career highs in minutes played (29), points (10), rebounds (7) and 3-pointers (2). Wing started in place of senior Lewis Jones, who was out sick but will be available Wednesday.
—Seniors Jackie Carmichael (18.1 ppg) and Tyler Brown (16.7 ppg) led Illinois State with 20-plus points apiece in the Redbirds’ first meeting with UE. The duo, much thanks to late free throw shooting, scored their team’s last 24 points. Carmichael leads the MVC in rebounding with 9.3 a game.
—Since starting 0-6 in conference play, the Redbirds are 7-2 — the best mark in the MVC over the last nine games. Illinois State is the first team in MVC history attempting to start 0-6 and finish above .500 in the league. The Redbirds had a chance to get there before their loss last Sunday at Wichita State, a result marred by a flagrant foul call on Carmichael in which officials were later punished by the league for sending the wrong Shockers player to the free throw line.
—If UE loses Wednesday and Bradley beats Drake, the Aces would fall to seventh in the MVC standings with just two games left. The top six teams at season’s end get first-round byes at Arch Madness, while the 7-10 seeds play Thursday games at the conference tournament.
UE coach Marty Simmons on Illinois State: “They’re playing great basketball. I see them probably playing as well as any team in the league right now. They’re just ultra, ultra aggressive offensively and have a lot of guys who can drive the basketball and shoot the basketball. And obviously they’ve got one of the better post players in the league and maybe American in Carmichael. They’re just an athletic, fast, quick — very, very aggressive team. They do a great job of getting to that free throw line, and defensively they play extremely hard. They make it difficult for you offensively to get good looks.”
Simmons on where his team is at this point: “We didn’t play particularly well down at Southern (Illinois), and Southern had a lot to do with that. I think they played really hard and played well, and we just weren’t overall aggressive enough. I saw our guys bounce back and give a better effort against Creighton. We did a lot of things better and put ourselves in a position to, at times, win that game. Just a better overall effort, and our overall execution was much, much better. It needs to be even better as we look ahead to Illinois State.”
Simmons on the importance of limiting Illinois State’s free throw attempts: “I think that’s a big part of their game, and really all year we’ve stressed that – we’ve got to play defense more with our feet than our hands. With this game more than any, it’s critical.”
UE senior Troy Taylor adds to that: “That’s one of our main things – to keep them off the line and stop the penetration.”
Simmons on talking to his team about MVC standings: “I think after we talk about all the things that Illinois State does well, that’s going to take up enough time. I think our guys understand that stuff. We don’t put a lot of time into that. It’s about the next opponent, and they certainly do enough great things that we need to focus on them and being ready to play and taking some of the things they do well away from them.”
Taylor on the Aces’ conference slate: “I think one of the most frustrating things is how many games we were right in there, especially on the road because that’s been our biggest challenge…There’s not one dominant team. There’s not one team that’s super superior to all the others. So when you go into this conference tournament, everybody has to be on their ‘A’ game because any team can win on any given night.”
Outlook: Creighton coach Greg McDermott called his team’s game last weekend against UE a “must-win.” The Bluejays are playing for a conference championship. Wednesday is a must-win for the Aces if they just want to get a first-round MVC tournament bye. With a loss, they slide into dangerous territory knowing games at Wichita State and against Indiana State are all that’s left.