Normal, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - The Illinois State Redbirds will show some love to the 15th-ranked Wichita State Shockers when the two Missouri Valley Conference members get together on Valentine's Day.
Like every other team in the MVC, except for Northern Iowa, the Redbirds are chasing Wichita State which is tied with the Panthers for the top spot in the league standings entering the weekend. Tied with Evansville for fourth in the conference at 7-6, Illinois State is coming off back-to-back defeats after winning three in a row.
The most recent setback for the Redbirds was against 12th-ranked UNI earlier in the week, 83-64, in Cedar Falls. After this weekend's outing, ISU has just four more games before the start of the conference tournament the first week of March in St. Louis.
As for the Shockers, who are sporting a record of 12-1 in conference, they secured their third straight win and the 12th in the last 13 decisions on Wednesday with a 74-57 thumping of Indiana State at home. With the victory the Shockers added to their already school-record home winning streak, which now stands at 30 games.
These teams met last month in Kansas, with the hosts posting a 70-62 victory as four players scored in double figures for the Shockers, led by Ron Baker with 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor. On the other side, Daishon Knight tallied a game-high 24 points on 10-of-23 from the field for a ISU squad that was limited to 36.5 percent accuracy.
Wichita State now leads the all-time series by a 39-37 margin, thanks to six consecutive victories.
The Shockers shot only 36.7 percent from the field in the second half against Indiana State a few nights back, but the hosts had already established a double-digit lead at the break so the drop-off was no big deal. Fred VanVleet accounted for 21 points, Darius Carter 17 and seven rebounds, followed by Tekele Cotton with 16 points. Recently named to the Naismith Trophy Midseason List, Ron Baker made just one of his six shots from the floor and finished with five points.
Last week Baker led WSU in scoring in a pair of decisions over Bradley and Missouri State and even with the lackluster performance on Wednesday, is still leading the team in scoring overall with 15.5 ppg as he connected on 41.3 percent of his 3-point tries. Carter checks in with 11.9 ppg and VanVleet another 11.8 ppg, to go along with a team-best 137 assists. VanVleet, who also has 46 steals and is averaging 4.2 rpg, has turned the ball over a mere 38 times while playing close to 30 minutes per game.
Knight scored the first three points of the game against Northern Iowa, but an 8-0 run immediately after by the Panthers dashed any hope the Redbirds may have had at a rare road upset. Knight finished the contest 2-of-6 beyond the arc and 7-of-16 from the field, en route to a team-best 16 points, followed by Paris Lee and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell with 10 points apiece. Deontae Hawkins contributed with a team-high 11 rebounds.
As the only player to have started every game for the Redbirds, it only makes sense that Knight is leading the program in scoring with 14.5 ppg and is one of the better passers who has come up with 58 assists. Playing seven fewer games than Knight and coming off the bench in all but eight of his appearances, Akoon-Purcell is responsible for another 12.1 ppg and is one of the better rebounders with 5.5 rpg. Reggie Lynch (9.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg), who had the only block of the game against UNI, is tops in that category with 65 rejections.