Paris Lee

Illinois State's NCAA Tournament bubble bursts, will play in NIT

Illinois State's NCAA Tournament bubble bursts, will play in NIT

Illinois State's bubble officially burst Sunday afternoon.

After much debate, the Redbirds were left out of the 2017 NCAA Tournament field in favor of other fringe squads like Kansas State, USC, Providence and Wake Forest. Their season isn't over quite yet, though. 

The Redbirds were selected as a No. 1 seed in the NIT and will host UC Irving in an opening-round game on Wednesday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m at Redbird Arena, where ISU has compiled an undefeated record this season. 

Albeit disappointing to miss out on the Big Dance, ISU still has a chance to make postseason noise and knock off some of the biggest names in college hoops. This year's NIT field features premier programs like Indiana, Syracuse, Cal and, yes, their neighbors from Champaign, too.

It's also the last hoorah for Proviso East product Paris Lee, a senior who was named Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. In Lee's fantastic senior campaign, he's put up 13.1 points, 5.0 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. 

Only Wichita State, who received an automatic bid, represents the MVC on this year's bracket. The Shockers square off against Dayton in the first round. 

 

 

Chicago native Paris Lee doing all he can to make sure Illinois State's NCAA Tournament bubble doesn't burst

paris-lee-illinois-state-feature-slide.png
USA TODAY

Chicago native Paris Lee doing all he can to make sure Illinois State's NCAA Tournament bubble doesn't burst

Dan Muller didn't even have to say anything.

The Illinois State men's basketball coach certainly didn't want his team to lose focus, not with what the game against Bradley meant for the Redbirds' NCAA tournament chances. 

But as Bradley mounted a comeback in the second half of what initially appeared to be a blowout, senior point guard Paris Lee stepped up and delivered all that needed to be said.

"Paris led us like he always does," senior forward Deontae Hawkins said. "The defense was slacking later in the game and Paris called us out and told us, 'We're too old to keep following our old habits.'"

[RELATED —​ MVC tripleheader on CSN Wednesday night, including ISU-Missouri State at 8 p.m.]

The Redbirds wound up cruising to a 64-50 win over Bradley to improve their record in the Missouri Valley Conference to 13-1 (21-5 overall) and Lee took home MVC player of the week honors for his effort.

It was all the more important given the audience at Redbird Arena Saturday night.

At halftime, Illinois State honored the 1998 team, the last Redbirds squad to make it to the NCAA Tournament back when Muller was filling an important role as a player instead of a coach.

Now in his fifth year at the helm of ISU, Muller has improved the Redbirds' record in the MVC in each season. With four conference games left — including Wednesday night's tilt against Missouri State on CSN — Muller has already set a new high mark with 13 conference wins.

And he's been leaning heavily on Lee to do so.

Muller said Lee's impassioned mid-game speech to his teammates has become a common sight this year as Lee — a native of Maywood, Ill. just outside Chicago — has grown more comfortable in a leadership role.

"Paris is pretty locked in," Muller said. "He's been a coach on that floor all year; he has been since he's been here [at ISU]. That's one of the areas he's probably improved the most over the last four — his leadership, his competitive spirit, his comfort level and taking control of the team."

Lee admitted his transformation into a leader was not always a natural fit.

"I feel like I had no other choice but to start maturing because we had a lot of new guys on the team and a lot of younger guys looking up to me," he said. "So I had to. I was kinda forced to grow up. 

"In previous years, I've always had teammates that were able to take the load from me, talk, do everything I should do. But this year, I had no choice but to [step up as a leader]."

Lee is all in — down to his red-tipped dreadlocks that he joked gives him more swag and a pair of sick red Jordans — on getting the Redbirds back to the NCAA Tournament in his final season. He's already set a new career high in assists, thriving as a playmaker/facilitator.

"I'm very hungry, man," Lee said. "I'm gonna continue to play the right way, not try to do too much. Just try to do the right thing to help my team win."

ISU stays undefeated in MVC play with 12th straight win

paris-lee-isu-slide.png
AP

ISU stays undefeated in MVC play with 12th straight win

NORMAL, Ill. (AP) Paris Lee scored 18 points as Missouri Valley Conference leader Illinois State notched its 12th-straight win, beating Northern Iowa 57-51 on Wednesday night.

Lee was 6 of 15 from the floor for the Redbirds (19-4, 11-0 MVC). Phil Fayne added 17 points and 10 rebounds and Deontae Hawkins had 11 points and nine rebounds.

Lee made two 3-pointers, a layup, and a pair of free throws late in the first half to give the Redbirds a 21-12 lead with 3:19 to play in the period. They had a 23-19 edge at intermission.

Fayne contributed six points to an 8-0 surge midway through the second that put Illinois State up 38-28 with 7:42 left. Northern Iowa closed it to 55-51 with 14 seconds to go but Lee drained two free throws with 11 seconds remaining to finish the scoring.

Jeremy Morgan led the Panthers (10-12, 5-6) with 12 points.