Illinois State (4-4) at BYU (6-2)
Wednesday, 7 p.m. MST Marriott Center
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
PROVO — A lot has happened, and changed, since BYU last played a home game, a little more than two weeks ago in a win over Niagara.
“We’ve been out of the Marriott Center for quite a while,” said coach Dave Rose.
The Cougars had a pair of contests in Brooklyn, New York — a loss to Alabama and a dramatic, comeback victory against UMass. Then came a pair of in-state road wins at Utah Valley and Utah State.
Meanwhile, BYU also added a guard, junior McKay Cannon, who was ruled eligible a week ago after transferring from Weber State earlier this year. All Cannon has done is average 12.5 points in his first two games.
“He’s had a huge impact on our team, and hopefully that will continue,” Rose said of Cannon.
The Cougars went 3-1 during that four-game stretch away from home, including three straight wins, and they are looking to continue to build momentum as West Coast Conference play approaches at the end of December.
“The four games we’ve played outside the Marriott Center have helped us to be a better team,” Rose said.
The Cougars (6-2) host Illinois State Wednesday (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv) in a matchup with the defending Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champions.
The Redbirds (4-4) come to town after BYU has played a couple of intense in-state games. And a couple of more are coming up against Weber State Saturday and Utah the following week.
“We’ve felt really challenged. Hopefully, that’s how we feel because (Illinois State) is really good,” Rose said. “It’s kind of a worrisome game because it’s in between two in-state games, and there’s two in-state games right after it. It’s really emotional for the guys, and, hopefully, the emotions will be there for this game. It’s a very talented team, a team that’s really good offensively and really good in transition. They change up defenses a lot like (Texas Arlington) did. Hopefully, we’re ready.”
Illinois State guard Keyshawn Evans averages a team-high 20.4 points per game. He is ranked among the top 10 in the country in 3-pointers made (32) and he’s shooting 51 percent from 3-point range. Forward Phil Fayne is averaging 16.6 points per game.
“They’re very athletic, great at transition. One of the top five percent of teams in transition as far as being able to score the ball and how efficient they are,” Rose said. “Conversion defense will be huge for us. It’s a team that’s got really good guards. They average ten made threes a game. A great point guard that can run a team and score.”
“We’ve played a lot of good teams in transition this year,” said guard TJ Haws. “Niagara was really good. Something we work on every day in practice is our transition defense. We’ve got to make sure that when that shot goes up that we have three guards back and we stop their guards in transition.”
This season, Illinois State has lost at Florida Gulf Coast and beaten South Carolina, a Final Four team a year ago.
After not being granted an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament last March despite winning 28 games, Illinois State coach Dan Muller vented his frustration on Twitter.
Muller sent out a Tweet pleading for the chance to schedule big-time programs. Rose had BYU assistant Tim LaComb reach out to Illinois State in response.
“We called and expressed interest, and they returned a call a while later. They were probably looking for other things,” Rose said. “They play a tough non-conference schedule. (Muller has) really been aggressive with teams they’re playing. He’s had a similar experience as a lot of us in the situation, right outside the Power 5, not really luring Power 5 teams to come to your place. It’s a tough thing. They’re not going to do it. Every once in a while you get one.”
Next year, BYU will take a return trip to Illinois State.
While Illinois State may not be a household name, the Cougars say they aren’t taking this game lightly.
“They’re very talented. I know their coach sent out a tweet a about how people won’t play them,” said guard Elijah Bryant. “It’s not a game we’ll look past. We understand what we have in front of us.”
“We had a chip on our shoulders going into the away games," Haws said, "and we need to have that same edge in home games as well."