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LATE SURGE LIFTS ILLINOIS STATE PAST BUCKNELL IN OVERTIME THRILLER

Written by on November 21, 2021

Photo Courtesy from goredbirds.com

NORMAL, Ill. – The Illinois State men’s basketball team trailed Bucknell by five points with 33 seconds remaining but turned the tables on the Bison to force overtime and clinch a hard-earned 105-100 win Saturday at Redbird Arena.

In a game where Antonio Reeves struggled to find his shooting touch, Mark Freeman exploded for a career-high 34 points and Sy Chatman contributed with 23 as the Redbirds moved to 2-2 in the on-campus portion of the Cancun Challenge.

“The offense was flowing well. We came back from the Murray game and had to move it around and get our offense more fluent,” said Freeman. “It’s a lot more people on the team that are capable of big scoring games.”

The dramatic matchup between two closely competitive teams featured 22 lead changes and no edge bigger than seven points.

Just when the game seemed out of reach for the Redbirds, Kendall Lewis forced a turnover that ended in a dunk assisted by Reeves with half a minute left to give ISU an 87-86 advantage.

“I wasn’t really playing much in the game because everyone else was doing their thing, but I just knew on the bench I had to be ready,” Lewis commented on his mindset before his big play. “I knew if I could get my hands high, I could get a steal and deflection and that’s what happened just like we drew it up.”

A defensive stop led to Lewis drawing a foul and splitting two free throws with 6.3 seconds left, but Bucknell’s Elvin Edmonds IV found himself in great position for a rebound and put back basket at the buzzer to force overtime.

Reeves sunk a free throw and mid-range jumper while Lewis scored on a second-chance bucket to give the Redbirds the separation they needed in OT at 99-94. Bucknell narrowed the gap to 99-98 but couldn’t overcome the deficit.

“We did a lot of good things and a lot of bad things,” said ISU head coach Dan Muller. “It’s nice to be able to get a win when Antonio has a tough night even though he did a lot of really good things. You don’t win many when you’re down five with 30 seconds, we found a way to do it so we’ll take it.”

Antonio Reeves entered the game as the NCAA scoring leader, averaging 26.7 points per game but finished Saturday night’s contest 3-of-16 from the field. The last Redbird player to average 20 points or more per game for an entire season was Tarise Bryson, when he averaged 22.8 for the 2000-01 season.

Bucknell guard Andrew Funk led all scorers with a game-high 38 points, hitting 7-of-16 from beyond the arc. Funk showed off his ridiculous range and shooting ability when he single-handedly brought the Bison back from a 73-66 deficit with a trio of 3-pointers that knotted up the game at 75-a-piece.

ISU senior Josiah Strong and Reeves each chipped in with 12 points for the Redbirds, which also received a team-high 11 rebounds from Chatman for his second double-double of the year.

The Redbirds are now off to Cancun, Mexico, to compete in the 2021 Cancun Challenge where ISU will take on the Saint Louis Billikens on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., and then either Stephen F. Austin or Buffalo a day later.