Illinois State Redbirds

Larry Lyons
Associated Press

Illinois State honors plane crash victims

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In early April the Illinois State athletic department was hit hard by tragedy, with a plane crash claiming the lives of seven people including two who worked for the school who were returning to the area from the Final Four.

Men’s basketball associate head coach Torrey Ward, deputy director of athletics Aaron Leetch, pilot Thomas Hileman, Scott Bittner, Terry Stralow, Andy Butler and Woodrow “Jason” Jones lost their lives in the plane crash a couple hours northeast of the regional airport in Bloomington, Illinois where the small plane was supposed to land. Saturday the school honored these seven men in a private ceremony.

The Redbird Remembrance memorial consists of seven columns in a fountain, with there also being a plaque and a wall with the seven names etched into it.

“We felt that we had a duty to honor these men, support their families and strengthen the Redbird bond,” Illinois State AD Larry Lyons said in the release. “The permanency of the memorial is to honor their legacy with dignity and respect, and we believe the design is comforting and peaceful. We picked this location so that it is accessible to the families, the campus and the community to reflect and remember.”

According to the school its athletes will also wear commemorative patches on their uniforms this academic year.

Illinois State forward suspended indefinitely after being sent home from team’s trip to Spain

Deontae Hawkins (Getty Images)
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Illinois State is trying to build on last season’s NIT appearance and 22-win season and recently they embarked on a 10-day trip to Spain to play in four exhibition games. The Redbirds returned from that trip with a 3-1 record but the team also had to send home sophomore forward Deontae Hawkins, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-8 Hawkins missed the final two games of the team’s trip as he was sent home to Dayton. According to Jim Benson of the Bloomington Pantagraph, Hawkins started fall semester classes on campus with his teammates on Monday, but he remains suspended. Having Hawkins back on campus after being sent home is a good sign that he will return to the team at some point.

It’s hard to say what Hawkins did to get sent home, but Illinois State could really use him this season as he was a key player down the stretch last season. During his freshman year, Hawkins played 22.4 minutes per game and averaged 7.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. He started nine of the team’s final 11 games during the 2014-15 season.

Maryland headlines field for 2015 Cancun Challenge

(AP)
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Another in-season tournament for the 2015-16 season has finalized its field, as the eight teams that will participate in the Cancun Challenge were announced Wednesday. Leading the way is Maryland, a team seen by many as the early favorites to win the Big Ten.

Head coach Mark Turgeon welcomes back key contributors such as guard Melo Trimble and forward Jake Layman, and he’ll also add both size and skill in the front court with the arrival of Diamond Stone and Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter Jr. being eligible after sitting out last season. Maryland, which is also the only team in the field to make the NCAA tournament last season, is joined in the Riviera Division by Illinois State, Rhode Island and TCU.

Maryland will face Illinois State in one of the Riviera Division semifinals November 24, with TCU and Rhode Island meeting in the other semifinal. The championship and third-place games will be played the following day.

Of those three expectations are highest for Dan Hurley’s Rhode Island squad, which won 23 games and played in the Postseason NIT last season. Rising juniors E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin return, as does rising sophomore Jared Terrell, and the Rams have some solid additions joining the rotation as well.

Illinois State just missed out on the NCAA tournament, losing to Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title game, and TCU looks to account for the loss of point guard Kyan Anderson. Each of the four teams in the Riviera Division will play two home games against squads in the Mayan Division: Cleveland State, Houston Baptist, Rider and South Dakota State.

South Dakota State, which reached the Summit League title game last season, faces Houston Baptist in one Mayan Division semi with Cleveland State and Rider meeting in the other November 24 in Cancun.

Below is the complete schedule of games, with those being played in Cancun (November 24 & 25) in italics.

Nov. 19 – Houston Baptist at TCU; South Dakota State at Illinois State
Nov. 20 – Rider at Maryland
Nov. 21 – Cleveland State at Rhode Island
Nov. 24 – Mayan Division: South Dakota State vs. Houston Baptist; Rider vs. Cleveland State
Nov. 24 – Riviera Division: TCU vs. Rhode Island; Illinois State vs. Maryland
Nov. 25 – Mayan Division: Third-place and Championship games
Nov. 25 – Riviera Division: Third-place and Championship games
Nov. 28 – Cleveland State at Maryland
Nov. 29 – Rider at Rhode Island

Minnesota lands a commitment from 6-foot-10 transfer

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Minnesota added some depth to their front court on Tuesday as Reggie Lynch, a transfer from Illinois State, committed to the Gophers.

A source confirmed the news to NBCSports.com.

Lynch is a 6-foot-10 center from Edina, Minnesota. He averaged 9.5 points and 5.4 boards as a sophomore with the Redbirds. He is the nephew of former Minnesota big man Kevin Lynch.

Reggie will join a recruiting class that includes Dupree McBrayer, Kevin Dorsey, Jarvis Johnson and Jonathan Nwankwo, and while he has two seasons of eligibility remaining, he will have to sit out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer rules.

Illinois State assistant coach Torrey Ward among several killed in small plane crash

(Illinois State athletics)
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A small plane crashed in Bloomington, Illinois early Tuesday morning, killing seven people, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune.

One of those lost in the crash was Illinois State associate head coach Torrey Ward. The flight was returning from Indianapolis, where passengers had attended the national championship game.

Ward, who previously served on coaching staffs at Jacksonville State and Ole Miss, had been with the Redbirds for three seasons. He was promoted to associate head coach in May 2014. A former player at UAB from 1997-2000, Ward also briefly played professionally for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association before coaching in the league during the 2011-12 season.

The 36-year-old Ward is survived by two children.

The Redbird athletic department also lost Aaron Leetch, the deputy director of athletics for external operations

Illinois State athletic director Larry Lyons issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

“The Redbird family and the Bloomington-Normal community has suffered a terrible loss today.

Aaron Leetch was a shining star in this business. He had a gift in dealing with people and building relationships. Our external units were making incredible progress under his leadership, and he was on that trip doing what he does best. Torrey Ward was a big part of the success taking place with our men’s basketball program. He had a big personality, was a talented coach and recruiter, and our fans loved him.

Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of those involved. There is no play in the playbook for times like these. We will miss Aaron and Torrey deeply, and we will support their families in any way that we can. To honor their individual and collective legacies, we will move the Redbirds and our community forward.”

Illinois State makes bubble teams sweat with ‘Arch Madness’ semifinal win over No. 8 Wichita State

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For bubble teams this time of year means that they’ll spend a considerable amount of time scoreboard-watching, not just to keep tabs on other teams working to earn an NCAA tournament bid but also to watch conference tournaments where the NCAA tournament bids are essentially known.

Saturday afternoon Illinois State, a team that needs to win its league’s automatic bid to go to the NCAA tournament, made things a little more complicated for bubble teams across the country by knocking off No. 8 Wichita State 65-62 in a Missouri Valley semifinal. Daishon Knight was outstanding for the Redbirds, scoring 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the field, and his two free throws with 7.6 seconds remaining provided the final margin.

Knight scored 16 of his points in the second half, shooting 6-for-7 from the field as Dan Muller’s team erased and eight-point halftime deficit. Overall Illinois State shot better than 63 percent from the field in the second half, doing a good job of creating quality looks. Add in a 15-for-17 half from the foul line, and Illinois State was able to produce enough offense to beat one of the nation’s best defensive teams.

Gregg Marshall’s team shot 45 percent from the field but just 4-for-18 from three. How much of a concern should this be for Wichita State, especially with Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet combining to shoot 2-for-12 from three Saturday? Not too much, as they entered the game shooting a respectable 36.6 percent from three on the season. The Shockers simply ran into an opponent in Illinois State that’s beginning to figure things out.

The Redbirds have now won six straight games, and the confidence they’re playing with on both ends (playing multiple zone defenses had an effect on Wichita State’s offense Saturday) makes this group a serious threat to grab the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid. And no bubble team wants to see that happen.