Start putting in the votes for Paris Lee for consideration for all-conference in the Missouri Valley. The junior for Illinois State almost led the Redbirds to an upset over No. 2 Maryland, in Cancun, and into the title game of the Cancun Challenge.
In front of what was basically a shipped-in, home crowd for Illinois State, Lee had 15 points, four steals and three assists, but Maryland rebounding and defense held out as the Terrapins advanced with a 77-66 victory.
Lee was fantastic, covering the likes of Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon, two players that are more household names than the quiet Lee, who is overshadowed by the plethora of stellar guards in the Valley. The two Terrapin guards combined for six of Maryland's 11 turnovers, mostly because of Lee.
The four steals pushed his steal percentage to 4.9 percent, good enough for second among Missouri Valley guards, ahead of a lot of guys known for their defense in the league.
But these are the things that will go unnoticed this season outside the Valley, where Illinois State is still expected to make some noise, despite a 2-3 record. It makes you wonder if the result could have been different to start the year had Lee been just a little more accurate with his shooting instead of 2-for-13 against San Diego State.
That was not the case tonight, especially when Illinois State used its defense to push the ball in transition and score. Until Maryland turned the tables in the second half and executed the same turnover and break strategy, it was looking as if another Missouri Valley team would score a major upset.
Yet, Illinois State, who uses its bench fairly deep, couldn't get more than eight points of production Tuesday night on 3-for-11 shooting across 57 minutes of action. Plus DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell went just 3-for-10 from the floor, and scored almost half of his 11 points at the foul line. It was six points off his average of 17 points so far this season.
When trying to pull off that upset, everything needs to be clicking. Without a bench contribution, without Akoon-Purcell scoring 20-plus as he did in wins against Houston Baptist and Morehead State, it just wasn't going to happen.
But a lot of people saw what Paris Lee can do tonight, against top competition, and that should help keep his name in the conversation along with guys like Ron Baker, DJ Balentine and Fred Van Vleet. That is a conversation where he certainly belongs.