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Redbirds One Step Closer to Big Dance

Redbirds One Step Closer to Big Dance

Illinois State will compete for the Missouri Valley Championship against Loyola on Sunday at 1 p.m. (Photo courtesy GoRedbirds.com)

St. Louis, Mo. – For the fifth time in ten seasons, the Illinois State men’s basketball team will be playing for a trip to the NCAA tournament, as the Redbirds (18-14) held off Southern Illinois (20-13) 76-68, advancing to Sunday’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game.

Phil Fayne personally outscored Southern Illinois in the overtime session, pumping in 13 of his game-high 26 points, while the Salukis managed only a dozen points in the period.

“Phil was obviously huge down the stretch,” ISU Head Coach Dan Muller said. “A lot of guys made big plays.”

Matt Hein was among the group who stepped up and made big plays for ISU on semifinal Saturday, as the sophomore chipped in 12 points, five rebounds and two steals in 29 minutes. It was significant turnaround for Hein who a year ago on semifinal Saturday against the same Saluki squad committed two turnovers in just three minutes of playing time.

“Matt has come a long way and he’s not only played well for us this year, but he’s been a huge part of a lot wins, big plays,” Muller said. “He was terrific tonight on both ends.”

Awaiting the Redbirds in the championship game is top seeded Loyola. The Ramblers outlasted fifth seeded Bradley to make the tournament championship game.

Muller and the Redbird faithful will be hoping the fifth time will be charm in the ending the two-decade NCAA tournament drought ISU has suffered.

“It would be huge,” Muller said. “Everybody wants to go. It’s been too long for us. And I say “us” because I’m part of this program, not just the last six years, but the last 24 years, I guess. The fans deserve it.”

Sunday’s championship game, which can be heard on 103.3 WZND or online at WZND.com at 1 p.m., features two of the longest tournament droughts in the MVC, with Loyola’s current streak extending back to 1985.

One team’s years of agony and misery will end Sunday. Muller, Fayne and the Redbirds hope, after so many close calls, it is finally ISU’s turn.

Tom Prizeman contributed to this story.

WZND Newsroom

March 4th, 2018

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