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MVC Tournament: Redbirds Storm Back Against Evansville, Advance to Face Wichita State

As with their two match ups earlier this season, Illinois State and Evansville started off in a back-and-forth affair until the Purple Aces went on a run. Then Illinois State took over in the second half using their superior depth and offensive balance to win it. The Redbirds will now face #1 seed Wichita State, which beat Southern Illinois as expected.

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When two teams engage in a grind-it-out, hard nosed game usually it's the team with the necessary depth and offensive balance that emerges victorious at the end. The script wasn't much different in the Redbird's 71-67 quarterfinal win over the Purple Aces in the Missouri Valley Tournament.

As with most of the season, Evansville (19-13, 9-10) was competitive throughout the game with their star players - DJ Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius - having strong games to carry their team. Illinois State (21-11, 12-7) won with an effective mix of inside power and outside sharpshooting.

Nearly a quarter through the game it stood at 15-15, until some cold shooting by ISU and some quick buckets by Evansville resulted in a 9-0 run for the Aces that would give them the lead for the rest of the half. Although it helped that ISU backup Justin McCloud (Jr-G) would hit back-to-back three pointers for his only baskets of the game, Evansville still was up 6 going into the second half.

The Redbirds' leading scorer at the half was Deontae Hawkins with 8 points, who would continue to play efficiently with a .500 shooting effort that included two from beyond the arc, adding two more threes after the half to lead all scorers in the game with 17 points. At the beginning of the second half, though, it was MVC Newcomer of the Year DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell who put on a show scoring 8 points in three minutes. Combined with a layup by Knight it gave Illinois State just its second lead of the day.

By continuing its hot hand and taking advantage of a 2 of 12 shooting effort by Evansville to start the second half, the Redbirds took their lead up to 8 points with a little less than 9 minutes left to play. Strong play from their stars would bring Evansville back, as Balentine showcased his ability to shoot around anyone and Mockevicius continued his efficient performance. With almost four minutes left it was tied all over again at 59-59 all.

Mockevicius converted a three point play as a part of his .667 night from the field and six of seven converted free throws, giving the Purple Aces a one point lead, but some quick scores from ISU's Hawkins and Reggie Lynch would create lead that they never relinquished.

Although the Redbirds would turn the ball over twice as the game was closing, sunk free throws by ISU and a block by Reggie Lynch against Mockevicius would close the game to clinch it for Illinois State.

Ultimately, although Balentine and Mockevicius did all they could, they received little help in the second half from the rest of their team. Mislav Brzoja would score 11, but 8 of those came in the first half and he would miss a crucial three point shot as the game ended. Although Illinois State has lacked some consistently on offense this season, they managed to put it all together to advance to play the Shockers in the Arch Madness Semifinals.