Published Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 8:48 pm / Updated at 9:03 pm
Valley Notes: Defense helps spark Redbirds

Illinois State is showing signs of life after a head-scratching 0-6 start to league play.

Picked second in the Missouri Valley Conference's preseason poll, the Redbirds appeared to be in good shape after going 9-3 in nonconference play. Then the bottom dropped out for them, especially on defense, in giving up an average of 74 points in their first six league games.

They've rebounded to win their past three, including victories over third-place Indiana State and fourth-place Evansville. The Purple Aces' 62 points are the most Illinois State has allowed during its winning streak.

“We've gotten back to what we were committed to earlier in the year,” Redbirds coach Dan Muller said. “We've gotten better defensively, and that's given us a chance every night.”

Muller's team, which returned all but one key contributor from last season, is still struggling offensively at times. He said that's understandable, given the amount of practice time recently devoted to improving on defense.

“When you don't spend time on a certain part of your game, it's going to affect it,” Muller said. “Our offense has slipped. We're missing shots that we normally make.”

Players of the week

Overall: Illinois State forward Jackie Carmichael.

The senior from Manhattan, Kan., averaged 20 points and 11.5 rebounds in two wins last week. He also blocked six shots.

Newcomer: Missouri State forward Gavin Thurman.

The freshman from Wichita, Kan., averaged 15 points and five rebounds as the Bears split a pair of games. He scored a career-high 21 points against Wichita State.

Quote of the week

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, upon learning his team was 14th in this week's coaches poll: “That's pretty high cotton, as we say in South Carolina.”

Bits and pieces

Bradley center Will Egolf missed the Braves' loss to Wichita State and is listed as day-to-day after aggravating a knee injury. Egolf, who has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee twice, has not practiced since tweaking the knee in loss last Wednesday to Evansville.

Wichita State is one of 11 teams to win 100 games since the start of the 2009-10 season. The Shockers picked up their 100th victory by beating Bradley last Saturday.

Northern Iowa's Marc Sonnen is shooting 57.6 percent (38 of 66) from 3-point range in his last 14 games, and ranks third on his school's career 3-point chart.

Southern Illinois could exceed last season's win total (8) with a victory at home Wednesday against Drake.

— Steven Pivovar

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