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Redbirds trail the whole way, lose at Evansville

(MCT) — EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Finally, Illinois State found a way to stop Colt Ryan. The Evansville sharpshooter went to the bench with his third foul with 16:17 left in Wednesday’s critical Missouri Valley Conference game.

Seconds later, Zeke Upshaw sank a 3-pointer from the corner. Suddenly, the Redbirds were within 47-41 and apparently ready to shake away the cobwebs from a disheartening loss three days earlier.

That hope quickly faded away.

Ned Cox sank two straight 3-pointers, keying a 13-2 run by the Purple Aces. ISU had nothing left as Evansville raced away to a 79-62 victory before a Ford Center crowd of 4,166.

“We got outcompeted in every aspect of the game,” said ISU coach Dan Muller, as his team suffered its worst defeat margin of the season. “Evansville came out and absolutely smacked us around, which I was surprised by with our team and disappointed. They literally won every single facet of the game tonight.”

The Aces (15-13) used 31 points by Ryan and 16 from Cox to move into sole possession of fifth place in the Valley at 8-8 with two league games left.

Evansville was the aggressor the entire game, and it showed at the free throw line where the Aces made 19 of 28 compared to ISU’s 5 of 7. The smaller Aces also grabbed a 42-39 rebounding advantage, including 11-9 on the offensive boards.

About the only good news for ISU (16-12) was that Bradley lost in overtime at Drake. That leaves the Redbirds and Bradley at 7-9 in the league, tied for sixth. The top six teams avoid the Valley Tournament play-in round on March 7 in St. Louis.

ISU’s players insisted they didn’t have a hangover from Sunday’s tough-to-swallow 68-67 loss to Wichita State, even though it looked otherwise.

“They’re not your ordinary team. You get hit every time guarding your man,” said Tyler Brown, who paced ISU with 21 points and was the lone Redbird in double figures. “You’re fighting through screens and figuring out how to get through them. We were just not focused for them.”

ISU did a good job containing Ryan in Normal on Jan. 26. The Redbirds held him to 6-of-15 shooting and 17 points in ISU’s 67-62 victory.

But Ryan put the Aces on his back early Wednesday. He scored 23 points in the first half in staking Evansville to a 42-33 lead at the intermission. Ryan finished 9 of 18 from the field, 4 of 8 outside the arc and 9 of 12 at the line.

“We were two steps slow all night. We were stuck in mud. I didn’t think it would happen,” said Muller. “I thought it could, but I wanted to think positively about it. We didn’t react or execute the game plan. They’re really good at home and tough, but we didn’t do anything right.”

Evansville held Jackie Carmichael to seven points, his low total in a Valley game, on 3-of-11 shooting. Carmichael did pass the 1,500 career-point mark and his game-high 14 rebounds gave him 900 for his career. He is only the seventh player in Valley history with those totals.

“The last time we kind of beat them inside,” said Carmichael. ”They probably spent more time on their inside game. They tried to take away some things. They limited my touches in the post, for sure. They did a pretty good job defending us.”

Evansville’s 6-foot-10 freshman, Egidijus Mockevicius, got plenty of help any time Carmichael touched the ball.

“They’re such an aggressive offensive team and Carmichael is such a great player inside, it’s hard not to foul,” said Evansville coach Marty Simmons. “But our guys, they gave the effort and that played a big part in the outcome.”

ISU was in trouble from the outset. The Redbirds committed four of their 11 first-half turnovers before the first media timeout and fell behind, 11-2.

Brown kept the Redbirds close the first 20 minutes, sinking four 3-pointers and scoring 14 points. With Johnny Hill, John Wilkins and Kaza Keane in foul trouble, Upshaw got in the game early and his corner jumper brought ISU within nine at the break.

Another Brown 3-pointer and then one by Upshaw with 15:54 remaining gave the Redbirds a faint glimmer of hope that was quickly extinguished by Cox.

ISU’s previous largest margin of defeat in a Valley game was 12 at Wichita State on Jan. 16.

“We have not played like this in two months,” said Muller. “It was a collective effort … by players and coaches.”

ISU leaves Thursday night for Saturday’s 8 p.m. BracketBusters Game at Utah State.

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