Illinois State savors shocking upset
ST. LOUIS — Illinois State guard Bryant Allen may
have described it best.
"This is what March Madness is all about, baby," Allen said.
"Moments like this are what you live for and this is a great moment for
Minutes earlier, Allen and his Illinois State teammates were celebrating on the
Scottrade Center floor, pointing to their fans and the scoreboard that read a
surprising final: Illinois State 65, Wichita State 64.
Not many expected Saturday's Missouri Valley Conference tournament semifinal to
be much of a game. Programs for a Wichita State-Creighton final were likely
already at the printer. All that remained was to play it out.
Illinois State apparently didn't get the memo, overcoming a double-digit
deficit in the second half to stun the top-seeded Shockers and most of the
college basketball world to reach Sunday's MVC championship against No. 2 seed
The fourth-seeded Redbirds are now amazingly just one game away from reaching
the NCAA tournament, something they haven't done since 1998.
"I don't think anybody outside this locker room thought we were going to
pull it out besides our fans," Illinois State forward Jackie Carmichael
said. "It's huge for us. It's a great momentum builder.
"There were times where we really could have given up, but that's not what
this team is about."
When the 15th-ranked Shockers went up 41-28 early in the second half, it looked
like it might be a blowout. But the Redbirds refused to go away, going on a
14-4 run to pull within 45-42 with 14:46 left.
A three-point play by Carmichael with 7:44 remaining gave Illinois State its first
lead since an 11-10 advantage early in the game. After the teams traded
buckets, the junior's layup with 4:35 left tied it at 63-63.
"Most people probably turned their TV's off after we were down by 10,
thinking they were going to win," said guard Tyler Brown. "But we're
not that type of team. We have a lot of guys that are going to fight to the
"I feel like I owed them something from the last two games we played them.
We lost and I don't think I played up to my potential, so I felt like I really
owed them something. I'm just glad I was able to give it to them."
A free throw by Wichita State's Toure' Murray gave the Shockers a one-point
lead with just less than three minutes remaining. That score stood until the
game's final tense moments.
But with 18 second left, the Redbirds spread the floor and let the hot hand go
to work. Brown, already with 23 points, backed into the lane and drew a foul
with six seconds left.
With Illinois State's NCAA tournament hopes clinging to life, Brown calmly sank
both free throws for a 65-64 lead. Wichita State had two good looks in the
final seconds, but both attempts rimmed off and the upset was complete.
"I've never felt something like that before," Brown said. "I've
never been a part of something this big, something that means so much to a lot
of people. “Our fans are here and it means a lot to them, the players and
coaches and the people watching at home. It's a great feeling."
The Redbirds entered the game as double-digit underdogs in Las Vegas. But when
the final buzzer sounded, they were celebrating their first win over a ranked
opponent since beating No. 14 Iowa 89-88 on Dec. 29, 1987.
Illinois State, which had lost 24 consecutive games to ranked teams, was
predicted to finish eighth in the Valley's preseason poll. Now it’s a game away
from cutting down the nets and taking an improbable trip to the Big Dance.
"We came here to win three," said Carmichael, who finished with 12
points and 11 rebounds despite missing more than 10 minutes in the first half because
of foul trouble.
"We're in the moment right now. It's a great feeling. This team worked
really hard to get to this point where we are right now. We're going to keep
working and hopefully take this momentum into tomorrow."
Despite foul trouble in the first half and the ejection of key big man John
Wilkins in the second half, the Redbirds refused to let their season end. They
shot just 33.9 percent from the field, and held the firepower of Wichita State
to just 34.9 percent.
The Redbirds were out-rebounded by six, but committed six fewer turnovers. They
were beaten in points in the paint, second-chance points and bench points, but
finished with more fast-break points and a 12-2 advantage in points off
"It was one of the toughest, hardest-fought performances of any team I've
ever been around," Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich said. "We all
thought we had a chance, but we also knew realistically we were going to have
to play tremendous.
"When you see your group go to a level that maybe they didn't know they have
and become just different and become tougher men and all that, it makes you a
Bubble teams across the country will be rooting for Creighton Sunday, hoping
Illinois State doesn't turn the Valley into a three-bid league and steal a spot
from a deserving at-large team.
But Illinois State could care less. Making its third appearance in the MVC
tournament finals in the past five years, the Redbirds are hoping for a
different result than the previous two. The Redbirds lost to Northern Iowa in
overtime of the 2009 title game.
After a shocking upset Saturday, they're hoping they've got at least one more
left in them.
"I'm sure a lot of people didn't think we were going to win this
game," Brown said. "All we had was us, our teams, our fans — that's
all we have.
"This is what it's all about, people thinking one team can't beat another
team and doesn't even have a chance, but as long as the team believes in
themselves, then they can do whatever they want. ... We're going to be ready for tomorrow."