Illinois State, a team picked second in the Missouri Valley Conference’s preseason poll, lost its first six MVC games before knocking off Southern Illinois and Indiana State within the last week.
UE travels to Normal, Ill., to face the resurging Redbirds (11-9, 2-6 MVC) at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Former Illinois State player and first-year head coach Dan Muller discussed his team on Monday’s MVC teleconference — before Wednesday’s 60-58 victory over the Sycamores despite no Redbirds 3-pointers.
Muller on struggles early in conference play, especially with second-leading scorer Tyler Brown (15.3 ppg) suspended for a Jan. 12 loss to Drake: “We went through some adversity – some off-the-court distractions here and there with some guys. The truth is, we’re just not as good of a team if Tyler’s not playing, No. 1, and we’re not playing at the level we’d accustomed to earlier in the year. Not only did we play with intensity for most of the Wichita State game – and I’m not into moral victories, so I don’t want that to be the feeling whatsoever – but we started playing harder, and also Tyler had some good days in practice and is starting to look like himself again.”
Brown came back to score 22 points against Southern Illinois in Illinois State’s first MVC win. “All of our players know they’re going to be held accountable on and off the court,” Muller said. “Tyler certainly knows that. He’s got his mind back focused on the right thing, and he got shots up. Both of those things gave him some confidence. Even before he sat out a couple games ago, he was not shooting it well the last seven or eight games. He was shooting about 28 percent from 3. So he wasn’t shooting real well, and he lost some confidence also. So…getting extra shots up and getting his mind right is a commitment to Tyler and the rest of this team.”
Muller on that Southern Illinois win, in which preseason all-MVC senior big man Jackie Carmichael scored 18 points and tallied 14 rebounds: “It was nice to play well again and, as I said after our Wichita State game, I felt like we started playing harder, which is important for any team that’s going to be successful. Unfortunately we’d gotten away from that during that stretch and then lost some confidence. Tyler Brown had an excellent first half offensively. (Jackie) Carmichael continues to play consistently. We played very well in the first half, and it was good to get a win again.”