Redbirds Win Thriller in Overtime Over Evansville, 79-78
Bobby Hunter finished with 10 points in the win over the Aces.
Bobby Hunter finished with 10 points in the win over the Aces.

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Jan. 15, 2014

NORMAL, Ill. - Fans at Redbird Arena were treated to a thrilling basketball game Wednesday night, as Illinois State and Evansville changed the lead 13 times and were tied 10 times in a game that needed overtime to decide the outcome. In the end, it was the Redbirds (10-7, 3-2 MVC) that came out on top with a late three-pointer from Zach Lofton in overtime to defeat the Purple Aces (8-10, 1-4 MVC) on Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena.

The win was the ISU's seventh in a row at home and the team has now won nine out of its last 12 games overall. The overtime win was the first for the Redbirds since an 86-84 win at Drexel last season on Nov. 15 in Philadelphia.

Lofton's three-pointer with 1:08 left in overtime proved to be the difference and gave him 21 points on the night, which set a career-high. He was joined in double figures by Daishon Knight, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half to help lead the Redbirds to the win and Bobby Hunter rounded out a trio of ISU players in double figures with 10 points.

The two teams came out firing, changing the lead three times through the first four minutes of the game. D.J. Balentine led the way for Evansville with a trio of three-pointers, but Lofton connected from three-point range twice and Reggie Lynch scored twice to give the Redbirds a 17-16 advantage. Balentine would go on to finish the game with 22 points to lead a quartet of Purple Aces in double figures.

Evansville took the lead back quickly out of the break with a quick 4-0 run to make the score 20-17. A three-pointer from the corner by Tony Wills on Illinois State's first possession out of the time out knotted the score at 20-20 with 11:32 left in the half. The Aces took the lead right back and jumped out to a four-point lead, before consecutive dunks by John Jones tied the game at 26-26 a minute later.

The back-and-forth action continued, with a layup from Jaylon Brown putting the Aces back up by four points at 34-30 with five minutes remaining, before a jumper by Knight cut the lead back to a basket. A jumper by Adam Wing extended the lead back to four points for Evansville, but Jamaal Samuel connected from three-point range for just the second time this season to cut the lead to one at 36-35. A jumper by Hunter gave the Redbirds the lead back at 37-36, but a three-pointer by Tyler Ptacek 25 seconds later gave the Aces the advantage once again at 39-37.

Lofton's third three-pointer of the half changed the lead for the ninth time in the first 20 minute and put the Redbirds back up 40-39 and a layup by Wills seconds later gave ISU a three-point cushion at 42-39. A free throw from Blake Simmons with a minute left cut the Redbird lead to two points, but neither team scored over the final minute of the half as ISU took a 42-40 lead into the locker room.

Illinois State maintained a single-digit lead through the first eight minutes of the second half, leading by six points at 52-46 while Evansville struggled from the field and failed to score for over four minutes of play. The Aces eventually cut the lead to two points at 54-52 after a layup by Brown with 11 minutes left in the game and had a chance to tie the score, but the Redbirds got a stop and extended the lead back out to six points at 58-52 after a layup by Wills and tip-in by Hunter with just over eight minutes remaining.

The Aces answered with a 9-2 run to take their first lead since the 2:10 mark of the first half, when Simmons connected from three-point range to give Evansville a one-point lead at 61-60. Two free throws on the next ISU possession from Lofton resulted in the 11th lead change of the game, but Simmons fired right back with another three-pointer to give the Aces the lead back at 64-62 with 3:56 left to play.

A jumper from Knight knotted the score at 64-64, but a three-pointer from Balentine swung the game in Evansville's favor at 67-64 seconds later. Not to be outdone, Knight tied the game at 67-67 with 2:47 left with a three-pointer of his own. Both teams had chances to take the lead over the next two minutes, but it was a three-pointer from Balentine with 33 seconds left that put the Aces up 70-67.

Lofton had a great look at a three-pointer to tie the game on Illinois State's next possession, but the ball rimmed out and Evansville grabbed the rebound forcing Illinois State to foul. Balentine took the in-bounds pass in the corner but was trapped and threw the ball away, as Kaza Keane corralled the loose ball and found Knight, who drained a three-pointer to tie the game at 70-70 with eight seconds left.

A foul with three seconds left by Keane gave the Aces the ball out of bounds, but the in-bounds pass to Balentine could not be handled and the game headed into overtime. Each team scored to begin the overtime period, before a pair of free throws from Wills and a layup by Knight put the Redbirds up by four points at 76-72 with 2:47 left. Ptacek hit from three-point range to cut the lead to one at 76-75, but Lofton answered with a three-pointer of his own to put the Redbirds up 79-75 with 1:08 left.

Ptacek continued his hot shooting for Evansville and cut the lead back to one point at 79-78 with 51 seconds left. A missed three-pointer by Lofton with 11 seconds left gave the Aces a chance to win the game, but a three-point attempt at the buzzer from Balentine was too strong and ISU held on for the one-point overtime victory.

Illinois State returns to action Saturday, when the Redbirds hit the road to take on Drake. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m., and the game will be broadcast live on Comcast SportsNet Chicago with Kurt Pegler and Bob Morris on the call live from the Knapp Center in Des Moines, Iowa.

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