NORMAL—Paris Lee hit the shots when it mattered, scoring 18 points late in the game, and also made two key steals late to lead Illinois State past the Wisconsin-Green Bay 69-56 in Wednesday’s first round of the National Invitation Tournament.Daishon Knight added 17 points, and Reggie Lynch and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell scored 15 and 14, respectively, for the Redbirds (22-12).ISU went 0 of 8 from the 3-point line until the second half. Lynch nailed a 3 with 16:13 left to put ISU up for good, and Lee followed 12 seconds later with another. The Redbirds went 4 for 16 from beyond the stripe.Lee’s two steals of deep passes ISU converted for points in the final six minutes.
”Paris basically was a beast all night,” said Redbirds coach Dan Muller. ”He certainly stepped up when we needed him.”
Free throws sealed the victory for Illinois State. The Redbirds went 27 for 33 compared to Green Bay’s 6 of 13.
”Runs begin with good shots and a lot of emotion,” Muller said. ”But free throws won it for us. And Paris (Lee) hit a lot of them in the first half to keep us in the game.”
Lee went 9 of 10 from the free-throw line.
”I was trying to attack all night, and just got the foul calls,” Lee said. ”We were down early, and we needed the right plays by the right people.”
The Phoenix were led by Keifer Sykes, who scored 14 points after missing last week’s Horizon Conference final loss against Valparaiso because of an injured ankle. Alfonzo McKinnie added 11 points and seven rebounds for Green Bay (24-9).Green Bay led 31-24 at the half after a sloppy 20 minutes that saw ISU shoot 20 percent (5 for 25) from the field to Green Bay’s 45 percent (14 for 31).ISU tightened its zone defense in the second half, and its shots starting falling.
”We felt really good at the half,” said Green Bay coach Brian Wardle. ”But they came out and threw the first punch in the second half, and we just went into a drought. The bottom line is, we needed to make shots, and we didn’t. Give credit to Illinois State. They are a very good team.”
The Phoenix saw their NCAA tournament chances dashed with the loss to Valparaiso in the Horizon Conference title game. The Redbirds fell to Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference championship after shocking top-seeded Wichita State in the semifinals.ISU will visit top-seeded Old Dominion on Monday in the tournament’s second round.