The Braves are picked to finish fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference according to the official preseason poll, and junior guard Walt Lemon, Jr., was named to the 2013-14 Preseason All-MVC Team.
WHERE TO WATCH: ILLINOIS STATE VS. BRADLEY
Comcast SportsNet Chicago: Comcast: 56, 522, 922; DirecTV: 665; Dish: 429; AT&T U-Verse: 741; 1741
FOX Sports Midwest: Comcast: 57, 535, 519, 959; DirecTV: 671; Dish: 418; 5418; AT&T U-Verse: 748;1748
MVC TV: DirecTV: 671; Dish: 418; AT&T U-Verse: 748
ESPN Full Court: Comcast: 835; DirecTV: 722
ESPN3 (subject to blackouts): http://es.pn/MBK-BRADvsILST
LAST MEETING: BRAVES RIDE SECOND-HALF RUN TO I-74 RIVALRY WIN OVER ISU
PEORIA, Ill. (Jan. 29, 2014) - After Illinois State manufactured a 10-2 run to take a five-point second-half advantage, Bradley outscored the Redbirds, 21-3, to put the game out of reach, and the Braves topped ISU, 64-45, at Carver Arena. Daishon Knight and Paris Lee both led Illinois State (11-10, 4-5 Missouri Valley Conference at the time) offensively with eight points, while Bobby Hunter pulled down a then-career-best eight rebounds. Meanwhile, Bradley's (9-13, 4-5 MVC at the time) Walt Lemon, Jr. led all scorers with 20 points after failing to score a first-half field goal.
HOME-COURT BRAGGING RIGHTS
Illinois State has successfully defended its home court - Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena - against I-74 Rival Bradley in six-consecutive meetings, plus the Redbirds hold a 20-5 overall advantage against the Braves at Redbird Arena and a 34-18 edge in Normal, Ill. Another Redbird victory Saturday would equal
Illinois State's longest home-winning streak in the series, matching a seven-game run from 1992-98. BU's last victory at ISU, occurred Feb. 3, 2007, with the Braves winning, 70-62. The 2006-07 season also marked Bradley's last I-74 Rivalry series-sweep.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena has proven to be a challenging place for opponents to win this season, with ISU earning an 9-3 home-court record in 2013-14, including a 5-1 mark against Missouri Valley Conference foes. ISU has won nine-out-of-its-last-10 games at home, including an 81-75 victory over No. 25 Dayton (Dec. 7) for the Redbirds' first victory over a Top-25 opponent in arena history.
With just five regular-season games remaining, Illinois State enters Saturday night's contest versus Bradley in a four-way tie for fourth place in the Missouri Valley Conference standings with a 6-7 league record (the complete standings are listed on pg. 19). Three out of ISU's final five games are against the teams that ISU is tied with in the standings (vs. Bradley Feb. 15, vs. Northern Iowa Feb. 23, at Southern Illinois March 1). ISU is 0-1 against Bradley and 1-0 versus Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois this season.
NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE COMES INTO PLAY
The 2014 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament is 18 days away (as of Saturday, Feb. 15). Records in head-to-head competition are compared (in both two-way and multiple-team ties) with the higher seed going to the team that has won the most games against the other(s). If head-to-head competition does not break the tie, the deadlock will be broken by non-conference schedule strength (NCSS) as calculated by The RPI Report on the day before the final day of conference games. ISU's success during its challenging non-conference schedule could play a role in the Redbirds' Valley Tournament seed. Illinois State is currently No. 3 in the league with a 159 NCSS.
Illinois State is the only team in the Missouri Valley Conference to feature two players shooting 50 percent or better from the field this season. Freshman center Reggie Lynch ranks second in the league with a 60.0 percent average, while redshirt junior guard Bobby Hunter is fifth in the league with a 50.3 percent shooting-clip.
'BIRDS SHOW FIGHT
The Redbirds surmounted a 25-point second-half deficit at Evansville to briefly take a one-point lead - and ultimately - force overtime; however, the Purple Aces held off ISU in OT, 104-98, Wednesday night at the Ford Center. After allowing Evansville to score a season-high 54 first-half points compared to ISU's 33, the Redbirds outscored UE in the second half, 61-40, marking ISU's first 60-point half since tallying 60 against Southeast Missouri State Nov. 28, 2009. ISU was on the brink of earning its largest comeback in program history, with the Redbirds previously overcoming a 21-point deficit to beat Butler Nov. 27, 1989.
ZEISLOFT FOR THREE!
ISU redshirt junior Nick Zeisloft was instrumental in ISU's comeback-attempt at Evansville, scoring a career-high 18 points, including four threes. He also blocked a career-best two shot in a career-high 33 minutes of action while matching a career-best five field goals. Zeisloft has been hot lately, earning double-figures in two-out-of-the-last-four games, including a then-career-high 15 points versus Drake (Feb. 1).
Part of ISU's dramatic second-half comeback at Evansville can be attributed to the Redbirds switching from their typical zone defense to man-to-man. In the second half, ISU turned defense into offense by netting 17 points off of 11 turnovers compared to UE's five points off of eight turnovers, as the Redbirds outscored the Purple Aces by 21 points in the second half.
FOR COMPARISON'S SAKE
Despite Illinois State featuring the least-experienced team in the nation, this year's Redbird squad (which features eight newcomers to NCAA Division I basketball on the current active roster) is even with where last year's more-experienced Redbird team was at this point in league-play. Last year's ISU team was 6-7 in the Missouri Valley Conference (15-10 overall), while the 2013-14 Redbirds are currently 6-7 and 13-12.
SAMUEL STEPS UP
Sophomore forward Jamaal Samuel has embraced his increased roll following the injury of fellow-forward John Jones at Indiana State (Jan. 25). In his 14 games prior to Jones' injury, Samuel averaged 1.6 points, 1.4 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 7.4 minutes per game. However, in his five games since the Indiana State contest, Samuel has averaged 6.2 points (+4.6), 4.2 rebounds (+2.8) and 2.0 blocks (+1.4) in 18.6 minutes per game (+11.2), including his first-career start against Drake (Feb. 1). The New Orleans, La., native was particularly impressive in ISU's win over Northern Iowa (Feb. 5), earning a career-best 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting. He followed that up with nine points at Loyola (Feb. 9) and four blocks at Evansville Sunday.
HUNTER AT HOME IN THE VALLEY
ISU redshirt junior guard Bobby Hunter has significantly increased his productivity in the Redbirds' 13 Missouri Valley Conference games this season. Hunter has not only netted double-figures in 11-out-of-13 Valley games, but he also leads ISU in Valley-play with 12.2 points (team-high) on 51.0 percent shooting, 4.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists (team-high) and 1.7 steals (team-high) per game. During non-conference play, Hunter averaged 9.5 points on 48.4 percent shooting, 2.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals.
LYNCH BUILDS RECORD
After earning the single-season blocks record for a freshman with a pair of stuffs against Drake (Feb. 1), center Reggie Lynch has extended the record to 60. The previous mark was 52. Lynch is now in fourth place on the single-season blocks list and is already tied for No. 13 on the career-blocks list. Lynch leads the league and ranks 42nd nationally in blocks per game (2.4).
LEE-DING IN STEALING
With 38 steals this season (1.5 per game) freshman guard Paris Lee is in search of his own freshman record. The single-season freshman steals mark is 57, set by Ron Jones in 1976-77. Lee forced a career-high six steals in his first-career game - at VCU Nov. 8 - which was one shy of a matching a program record for single-game steals.
ISU's primary zone defense has continued to effectively challenge the opposition since the Redbirds began utilizing it in their fifth game of the season. Illinois State currently ranks No. 2 in field goal percentage defense (43.1 percent) among Missouri Valley Conference teams. With ISU's four-guard lineup - including redshirt junior Bobby Hunter and freshman guard Paris Lee who both rank in the top-10 among Valley players with averages of 1.6 and 1.5, respectively - the Redbirds lead the Valley in steals (7.6) per game. With freshman center and league-leading shot blocker Reggie Lynch in the middle of the zone, ISU ranks second in league-blocks (4.6), and ISU is No. 2 in defensive rebounds, with 25.2 per game.
UNDER 70 SUCCESS
The Redbirds - who rank second in league-field goal percentage defense (42.7 percent) - have statistically proven that holding teams under 70 points is a recipe for success. With a 76-65 win over Northern Iowa (Feb. 5), Illinois State improved to 10-2 when holding its opponents to 69 points or less this season. Conversely, ISU is 3-10 when its opponents net 70 or more points.
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