St. Louis, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - Daishon Knight's 25 points and a huge second half enabled Illinois State to pull off an absolute shocker in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, as the Redbirds knocked off eighth- ranked Wichita State 65-62 in Saturday's first semifinal.
Knight totaled 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting after halftime and was at the forefront of a game-changing 14-0 run that helped send the fourth-seeded Redbirds into the conference title game.
The result also denied the league a potential blockbuster showdown between the Shockers and 11th-ranked Northern Iowa, which upended Loyola-Chicago in the other semi.
Reggie Lynch added 11 points and seven rebounds in the sixth straight victory for Illinois State (21-11), which dealt the top-seeded and defending tournament champion Shockers only their second loss in their last 41 MVC games.
"Couldn't be prouder of our guys, the way we fought, the way we played together," said Redbirds head coach Dan Muller. "If you're going to beat a team like a Wichita State, you're going to have to have somebody have a special day, and Daishon Knight had that. A lot of guys made big plays, but it kind of came down to just going out there and leaving it all on court, and we did that."
Fred VanVleet tallied 19 points and seven rebounds for Wichita State (28-4), but his desperation 3-point attempt at the buzzer that would have forced overtime was off the mark.
"Obviously, other teams in the nation are going to see how somebody beat Wichita State," said Shockers guard Ron Baker. "We've got to get better at attacking the high pressure, two-three zone, I guess, and different things from the game."
Illinois State trailed by as many as 12 in the first half and was down 36-27 just over two minutes into the second, but reversed the momentum with Knight's sharp shooting and a prolonged cold spell from the Shockers.
The senior guard accounted for nine points during the Redbirds' 14-0 tear, during which Wichita State went 0-for-6 and committed four turnovers while being held scoreless for a 5:13 stretch. Knight ended the surge by burying a jumper that staked Illinois State to a 41-36 lead with 12:39 left.
"We came out and we played the way we wanted to play," Knight said.
Wichita State battled back to grab a 58-56 edge on Tekele Cotton's inside bucket with 2:55 remaining, but Knight drained a 3-pointer on the following possession and Mikyle McIntosh -- a 55 percent free-throw shooter for the season -- went 4-of-4 from the line to put the Redbirds up by five with 39.4 seconds to play.
VanVleet answered with two free throws, then stole the ensuing inbounds pass before knifing through for a layup that pulled the Shockers within 63-62. Knight was then fouled with 7.6 seconds showing and calmly sank both shots to make it a three-point game.
The Redbirds then forced VanVleet into an off-balance try from near the sideline that bounced off the iron and sealed the upset.
"I had Ron in the corner, and I was looking for him and couldn't get it to him," said VanVleet of the final play. "I was trying to put one up in the air and give it a chance, and it didn't go. That's probably as best as I can describe. If it doesn't fall, you suck. If it does, you're a hero."
Wichita State appeared to have the game well in hand after scoring six straight points to open up a 26-14 advantage with four minutes to go in the first half. However, Paris Lee and Knight hit back-to-back treys and Illinois State was able to cut the lead to 30-22 by the break.
Baker led the way for the Shockers with 13 points and five assists over the initial 20 minutes, but the standout guard was held scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting for the second half.
Illinois State will be aiming for its first MVC Tournament title since 1998, when Muller earned MVP honors for the event. The Redbirds have lost three times in the championship game since 2008, most recently in overtime to Creighton in 2012 ... Wichita State defeated Indiana State in last year's MVC Championship and lost to Creighton in the 2013 title game ... The Shockers had won seven straight against Illinois State and swept this year's season series, though both wins were by single digits ... The Redbirds had lost six straight to ranked teams since upsetting Wichita in the 2012 conference tourney semifinals ... The Shockers finished 4-of-18 from 3- point range.