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Three Takeaways From Illinois State Basketball’s Season Opener

Written by on November 5, 2021

Image courtesy of goredbirds.com

NORMAL, Ill. – The Illinois State men’s basketball team cruised to an 85–59 win over the Davenport Panthers in its 2021-22 exhibition opener Thursday. A sluggish start by the Redbirds allowed the Panthers to hang around in a back-and-forth first half before a quick start to the second half sparked an 11-0 run to provide the separation needed to close the game out.

With ISU playing just one preseason exhibition game against a Division II opponent, head coach Dan Muller was offered the opportunity to play around with multiple lineup combinations.

There is still plenty of work to do before the Redbirds host North Carolina-Wilmington in the regular season opener on Nov. 9, but here is what we learned from the exhibition.

First look at the rotation

Muller alluded to during his preseason press conference that transfers Mark Freeman (Tennessee State) and Kendall Lewis (Appalachian State) had an early lead on spots in the starting lineup. Against Davenport, he filled the other three starting spots with Josiah Strong, Emon Washington and Sy Chatman.

According to Muller, leading returning scorer Antonio Reeves didn’t get the start after failing to meet “very minor program standards.” This also sidelined Howard Fleming Jr. as the sophomore guard didn’t dress for the game.

Reeves, Ryan Schmitt and Liam McChesney were the first players off the bench.

The Redbirds ended the game with four players scoring in double figures. Reeves finished with a game-high in points. Strong added 14 while Freeman put up 11 points and 10 assists. Lewis contributed with 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds.

Antonio Reeves emerges as early favorite to lead team in scoring

No surprise here. The junior guard has received high praise all offseason. Reeves was able to score comfortably all night, hitting the three pointer, mid-range and finishing at the rim. He shot 55% from the field, including six made baskets from beyond the arc. A perfect 8-8 at the free throw line capped off an impressive 34-point outing.

Coach Muller believes Reeves has what it takes to become a true 3-dimensional scorer.

“It’s impossible for Antonio to be too aggressive,” said Muller. “We want him to have the freedom to take over, be aggressive and he can pass too. I loved how he mixed driving and shooting because he’s becoming very difficult to guard.”

Despite not being named to one of the all-MVC preseason teams, Reeves seems primed for a breakout season that will surely put the conference on notice.

Frontcourt is still a big question mark

The power forward and center positions have been the biggest mystery this offseason. Senior Sy Chatman, junior college transfer Ryan Schmitt, Utah State transfer Liam McChesney, juniors Abdou Ndiaye and Alex Kotov and sophomore Harouna Sissoko have all been competing for minutes.

Although every player listed saw game action Thursday night, efficiency was lacking among the big men. Chatman led the way with 7 points on 3 of 7 shooting while grabbing 6 rebounds in 24 minutes. Additionally, the post-up game was essentially a nonexistent element of the offense.

“We didn’t get enough post touches,” said Muller. “Part of it was our bigs were a little bit slower because of nerves. Another part of it was because we didn’t execute certain things.”

The Redbirds have a lot of length; however, they’ll need to acquire the ability to score with their back to basket to be successful.