NORMAL - An early second-half run by DePaul put Illinois State in a seven-point hole, but the Redbirds (7-5) rallied on the strength of nine second-half points by Zach Lofton to come away with a 69-64 non-conference victory over the Blue Demons (7-5) for their fourth-consecutive win on Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena Sunday afternoon.
Daishon Knight led the way for the Redbirds with a team-high 16 points and six rebounds and Lofton finished the game with 14 points, including a 7-for-8 effort from the free throw line, to go along with a career-high tying five assists. Nick Zeisloft rounded out a trio of Redbirds in double figures with 11 points in the win.
DePaul was led by Billy Garrett, Jr., who led all scorers with a career-high 18 points. Cleveland Melvin, who came into the game averaging a team-leading 17.6 points per game, was held to just four points on 2-of-8 shooting and fouled out with 3:15 left.
The two teams traded baskets over the first nine-plus minutes of the contest, with Illinois State leading by as many as four points at 13-9 after a jumper by Knight with just over 11 minutes left. DePaul would eventually cut into that lead and after a 12-3 run, giving the Blue Demons a 21-16 lead at the under-eight minute time out. A 7-0 run over the next two minutes for ISU gave the Redbirds the lead back at 23-21. A pair of DePaul free throws tied the game seconds later, but four-straight points on a jumper by Lofton and a fast break layup by Tony Wills put ISU back up by four points at 27-23.
ISU maintained a single-digit lead over the next four minutes of action, until DePaul's Brandon Young connected from beyond the arc from the top of the key to knot the score at 34-34 with 30 seconds left in the half. Illinois State got the last shot and Zeisloft made it count, as he connected from three-point range to give the Redbirds a 37-34 lead at halftime.
DePaul struck first in the second half, as a layup from Melvin cut the Redbird lead to one at 37-36. Illinois State came right back and widened its lead back to four points at 40-36 after a three-pointer from Paris Lee, but DePaul would rip off an 11-0 run to take its largest lead of the game at 47-40 lead on a jumper by Garrett with 16:48 left on the clock.
The Redbirds fought right back with a quick 7-2 run, capped off on a three-pointer by Lofton, to cut the Blue Demon lead to two points at 49-47 two minutes later. ISU stayed close to DePaul over the next four and a half minutes of play, before eventually regaining the lead for the first time since the 18:47 mark when Knight connected from three-point range to put the Redbirds up 56-55 with 8:13 remaining in the game.
After Knight scored on a layup to extend the lead to 58-55, Durrell McDonald knotted the game with a three-pointer of his own with just less than six minutes left on the clock. Pairs of free throws from Lofton and Zeisloft grew the ISU lead to 62-58 and four more makes from the stripe for Lofton gave the Redbirds their largest lead of the game at 66-58 with three minutes left.
Five-straight points from Garrett on a pair of free throws and a three-pointer from the top of the key cut the Redbird lead to 66-63 just 30 seconds later and a free throw from Greg Sequele trimmed the ISU lead to two at 66-64, but that would be as close as DePaul would get as three free throws down the stretch sealed the win for the Redbirds.
The Redbirds will return to action Thursday, Jan. 2, when they travel to Springfield, Mo., to open Missouri Valley Conference action at Missouri State. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. against the Bears at JQH Arena.