Illinois State kept their hopes for a second place finish alive with a dominating victory over Southern Illinois. The high-flying Redbirds (18-12, 12-5) led from start to finish by shutting down SIU's Anthony Beane. The Missouri Valley's second leading scorer was held to a season-low two points.
On a special senior night, a large Redbird Arena crowd watched the Birds win for the ninth time in their last 11 games. They led 36-15 at half time and cruised to the easy victory. By knocking off the Salukis 70-53 ISU moved into a second place tie with Evansville, and can finish no lower than third heading into the conference tournament.
Paris Lee led all scorers with a career high 21 points, senior DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell added 16 and Deontae Hawkins scored 15. Akoon-Purcell, Hawkins and junior Nick Banyard tied for the team lead with seven rebounds. Sean O'Brien led the Salukis (21-9, 10-7) with 14 points.
Lee, who was basically benched in the Redbirds' final non-conference game and their first MVC game, has been electric ever since. The 6' junior has reached double figures in scoring in 12 of the last 16 games. His two steals moved the Maywood, Illinois native into second place on the Redbirds all-time list with 182. He is 40 behind record holder Ron Jones.
Defense was the name of the game for Coach Dan Muller's team. They pressured SIU into a sub-par shooting night including Beane's 1 for 8 shooting performance. They forced 18 turnovers and amassed six steals.
Southern Illinois is now in a battle with Northern Iowa for fourth place and finish the regular season by hosting Missouri State on Saturday. Illinois State, who has won 12 conference games for the first time since 2008, has the formidable task of playing at Wichita State on Saturday. The Shockers will be celebrating their 'senior day' and the Koch Arena fans will be saying good bye to all-Americans Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker.