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Illinois State Redbirds: First At Last.

The Illinois State Redbirds (14-4, 6-0) beat the Wichita State Shockers (15-4, 5-1) 76-62 tonight and took sole possession of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time since January of 1998.

The Redbirds took a 36-27 lead into half before seeing the lead drop to a single point at 43-42 with 13:35 left in the second half. The Redbirds then leaned on MiKyle McIntosh, Paris Lee and Deontae Hawkins, all three of which hit a key 3-pointer down the stretch as the Redbirds closed it out.

The Redbirds offense was good with 76 points, shooting 54.2% from the field and 45.5% from the 3-point line. However, as good as the Redbirds offense was, their defense was even better in limiting the Shockers to 62 points, on 34.9% shooting and 33.3% from the 3-point line. The Redbirds were playing decent defense in the man-to-man scheme, but really started to excel and push the Shockers out of their comfort zone (pun intended) while in the 2-3 zone.

The scoring sheet looks beautiful for McIntosh who despite foul trouble carried the offensive load with 20 points coming on 7-9 shooting, 5-5 from the charity strike and 4 assists in just 27 minutes. Hawkins shouldered the second largest portion of points getting 14 on 5-9 shooting with a pair of spin move buckets from the post and a big 3-pointer down the stretch. Lee helped in with 10 points including a reverse lay-up and a big three down the stretch along with racking up 6 assists as per his usual. Keyshawn Evans and DJ Clayton rounded out the rest of the Redbirds in double digits with 10 and 11 points, both being very efficient in going 2-4 and 5-5 respectively.

On the defensive side, it was a team effort but led by the seniors Hawkins and Lee. Hawkins grabbed 7 rebounds to go with 3 blocks and 3 steals. Lee applied constant ball pressure and recorded 2 steals.

The Redbirds are now 14-4 overall, 6-0 in conference and have won 7 straight and 10 of their last 11. Up next is a road trip to play the Bradley Braves on Wednesday January 18th for the next edition of “War on 74.” Important dates in the future include rematch in Wichita State on February 4th and at home versus third place Southern Illinois Salukis on February 22nd.

The last time the Redbirds held sole possession of first place in the conference was in January of 1998 when now head coach Dan Muller was a Senior on that team, Bill Clinton was our President, Windows 98 was still in beta and Peyton Manning had yet to be drafted into the NFL. Needless to say, it has been a long time coming and Redbird fans should be proud of this team.

I-S-U Go!

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Austin Guthrie
Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox Beat Writer for RSEN

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