Conway, S.C., November 16, 2017 – In a game where neither team shot the ball well, Illinois State players Milik Yarbrough and Keyshawn Evans found that the sweet spot on the court was from 15 feet straightaway. Otherwise known as the free-throw line.
Yarbrough and Evans scored 22 of their combined 35 points from the foul line, helping Illinois State overcame a sluggish 36-percent shooting performance and defeat South Carolina 69-65 in the opening game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off at Myrtle Beach.
“We rushed shots and missed shots that we normally make because (South Carolina’s) defense is so intense. But (Yarbrough and Evans) made a ton of free throws, which was huge,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “Clearly if we hadn’t gotten to the foul line like we did, we wouldn’t have been very good offensively.”
As much as the Redbirds (1-1) struggled with their shot, the situation was even worse for South Carolina (2-1). The Gamecocks missed their first eight shots from the field and 18 of their first 21 in falling behind 21-12. And while the Gamecocks rallied in the second half and tied the game twice, they never took the lead and finished 18-of-61 from the field (29.5 percent).
“Give credit to Illinois State. We couldn’t guard them off the dribble, and all we did was foul,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “We weren’t ready to play. Our defense was bad. When your jump shots is not going in, you still have to figure out a way to win. You win by defending and rebounding, and we didn’t do that.”
Yarbrough made only two shots but finished with a game-high 18 points by going 14-of-17 from the free-throw line. And while Evans did sink a trio of 3-pointers, including a huge shot with 2:30 remaining that gave the Redbirds a 61-56 lead, he still scored nearly half his 17 points on foul shots, going 8-for-11 from the line.
“In practice we stress something called drive through contact,” Evans said. “You keep driving (to the basket) regardless of whether they’re going to call a foul.”
The victory marked a significant improvement for the Redbirds from their season-opening 98-87 loss to Florida Gulf Coach. Meanwhile, it was a step back for the Gamecocks, who won their first two games of the season by a combined margin of 39 points, and now must prepare for a second-round game at 10:30 a.m. Friday.
“If you’re going to pout, there’s no place for you in sports,” Martin said when asked about the loss and quick turnaround. “Whether you win or lose, you better be ready to go the next day. Mentally we better be prepared to play (Friday), or else we’ll take another loss.”