After 12 lead changes and eight ties, the Eagles pulled away in the second half on a 10-0 run sparked by Dinero Mercurius' back-to-back 3-pointers and led 76-75 on Johnson's third 3 with 9:36 left. The Redbirds closed to 83-82 on Milik Yarbrough's jumper with 4:33 to go, but Christian Terrell hit a 3 and the Eagles led by nine, 96-87, after Goodwin's 3-point play with 50 seconds left.
The Eagles outrebounded the defending Missouri Valley Conference regular-season co-champion Redbirds 48-24, led by Terrell and Christian Carlyle with eight apiece, and outscored them 48-34 in the paint. The Eagles led the country in points in the paint last year at 41.3 per game, in addition to finishing 3rd in the nation with 159 dunks. The Redbirds had won its last 15 games in which it outrebounded its opponents.
Keyshawn Evans scored a career-high 28 points for Illinois State before fouling out. Phil Fayne scored a career-high 24 points and Taylor Bruninga added 14.
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