Daishon Knight scored 16 points, Zach Lofton 14 and Nick Zeisloft 11 for the Redbirds, who made 24 of 30 free throws to offset the woeful shooting.
The Redbirds took a lesson from a disappointing loss to Oakland on Monday to help rebuff a 13-3 run by DePaul to open second half of Sunday's game. Oakland led the Redbirds by just four at halftime but ran off a 12-2 run to start the second half in an eventual 15-point win.
When DePaul did nearly the same, there was no panic by Illinois State.
"You learn. Oakland hit us in the second half and we lost. It's like a stepping stone," Knight said. "DePaul hit us in the second half and you just have to respond. Coach kept preaching to us and we learned how to come back from that."
A back-and-forth game that was tied eight times and saw the lead change four times, Illinois State was outrebounded and was 5-of-26 from 3-point range in the game but took advantage of 16 turnovers by the Blue Demons (7-5), scoring 17 points off those DePaul miscues. Illinois State turned the ball over just six times.
"We created some chances with hustle," Knight said. "They were bigger but we played harder."
Illinois State managed an 11-2 run late in the first half to take a 27-23 lead with just more than six minutes left. A 3-pointer by Zeisloft gave the Redbirds a 37-34 lead at halftime.
Illinois St. was 11-of-14 from the free throw line in the first half, compared to the Blue Demons making just four of six from the line before the break. DePaul hung around in the first half by making four 3-pointers. Illinois State meanwhile went just 2-of-13 from behind the arc before the intermission.
Illinois State held DePaul star Cleveland Melvin to just four points. Melvin entered the game averaging 17.6 points per game but fouled out with just more than three minutes left.
"It was just one of those things. He was fine physically," DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell said of Melvin's lethargic output. "It was just one of those things."
DePaul got 18 points from Billy Garrett, Jr., 17 from Brandon Young and 10 from Durrell McDonald but sent Illinois State to the free throw line 30 times. The Redbirds made 24 of those free throws.
"We struggled all night guarding their drivers and when that happens then you're in help situations," Purnell said of the free throw differential. "They took advantage of that situation."
Illinois State took a 56-55 lead with just more than eight minutes left on a 3-pointer by Knight, helping erase a seven-point DePaul advantage. Knight made a layup a minute later to push the Redbirds lead to three, 58-55, with just less than seven minutes to go.
DePaul's McDonald, though, answered with a 3-pointer to tie the game again at 58.
The Redbirds responded with a couple of steals and six free throws from Lofton and two from Zeisloft to build an eight-point lead, 66-58, with three minutes to go.
DePaul had a chance to tie or take the lead with a trey with just 36 seconds left, but with the possession arrow in ISU's favor Knight forced a jump ball with the Blue Demon's Garrett. Knight was fouled on the ensuing inbounds and made one free throw to give Illinois State a 67-64 lead with 15 seconds left. A long three from Young wasn't close and Bobby Hunter grabbed the rebound and made two free throws for the final margin.
Illinois State coach Dan Muller was a little surprised that Young took the shot from the distance he did.
"I'm glad he did though," he said.
Muller added the Redbirds are becoming more assertive, a big jump for the young team.
"I think that our team is gaining confidence in practice about what it takes to get a win like this, but to get that win in a game, it's a big boost," Muller said." We were at a huge disadvantage height-wise but you can neutralize that with fight and hustle, and we played really hard tonight."
Illinois State knocks off DePaul 69-64
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