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March 5, 2010

Marquee guard matchup at Arch Madness

Marshall, Eldridge go head-to-head one last time

ST. LOUIS — Even though Indiana State guard Harry Marshall and Illinois State guard Osiris Eldridge came to their respective programs under completely different circumstances, their Missouri Valley Conference fates have mirrored each other from the start.

So it seems appropriate that with their MVC careers nearing an end, their teams will face each other one last time in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinal matchup at 9:30 p.m. tonight.

Marshall came to ISU as a walk-on, Eldridge arrived at Illinois State as a highly-touted prospect out of Chicago. From there, the differences end and their careers followed a similar arc.

“We have great respect for each other. It’s just that it comes to a certain point about who is going to push their team and who is going to will their team to get the win,” Marshall said.

The players have different builds and styles: Eldridge is longer and more fluid, Marshall more squat and staccato, but an ability to penetrate in a tighter spot than the bigger Eldridge. Both are excellent defenders and both players have got the measure of the other during their four-year pitched battles, most of them featuring them in head-to-head competition.

“It’s been great. We came in as freshmen. He’s a great player. He’s tough to play against, tough to guard one-on-one. We’re going to need a lot of help tomorrow. I’m going to go out and play the best defense I can against him and hope everybody else can help me out with him,” Eldridge said.

Marshall and Eldridge faced off in the play-in round of the 2007 MVC Tournament with ISU winning in overtime 68-65. The Sycamores lost the next day in the last game of Royce Waltman’s ISU career. In Eldridge’s case, the Redbirds’ loss was the last in then-coach Porter Moser’s Illinois State career.

While Marshall helped get ISU’s program back on-track in Kevin McKenna’s early years, Eldridge led one of the league’s best teams and was one of the league’s best players during his sophomore and junior seasons. Illinois State advanced to the MVC Tournament championship game in 2008 and 2009, losing on both occasions.

And while the Sycamores didn’t reach those heights, they did get the better of the Redbirds in those two years, winning three of the four match-ups. Marshall hit a memorable game-winning shot that turned ISU’s fortunes around at Illinois State in 2009.

“We’ve been playing each other since we were freshmen. The last years have been more physical and more aggressive. It’s two guys that are going to go hard each and every night that are playing against each other,” Marshall said.

This year, Marshall held Eldridge without a field goal in ISU’s 72-65 victory in Hulman Center, but Marshall also suffered a stress fracture in his right foot in a freak accident late in the game when he stepped on Eldridge’s foot while trying to haul in a lob pass. Marshall missed the next five games, but returned against, you guessed it, Illinois State. On doctor’s orders, Marshall played just 19 minutes as the Redbirds pulled away from the Sycamores for a 75-58 victory on Feb. 24.

Marshall will not be similarly restricted against the Redbirds tonight and he’s confident it will make a difference in ISU’s fortunes.

“My limitations are going to be different this time around. Right now, I’m just going to play Illinois State the same way we’ve been playing all year. It’s a good team, with a good coach,” Marshall said.

The Sycamores and Redbirds will be playing each other nine days removed from their last meeting. Memories of the Redbirds’ victory at Redbird Arena — a game in which Illinois State’s big trio of Dinma Odiakosa, Tony Lewis and Jackie Carmichael dominated ISU — are fresh in the mind.

“I think having it the way it went, they might be playing with a little more confidence. We know we had some lapses in that game, though it was a three-point game with five-and-a-half minutes to go,” ISU coach Kevin McKenna said.

Illinois State had 18 second-chance points and scored 26 points off turnovers in the victory over the Sycamores, obvious points of emphasis for ISU to shore up tonight.

“One of the things that hurt us during the course of that game was the offensive rebounds [Illinois State had 21]. That kind of snowballed from there. We know we’re going to have to play good basketball from top to bottom to beat this team.”

ISU center Brant Leitnaker, who missed part of Wednesday’s practice with a left foot injury, was in uniform and participated in a Scottrade Center shootaround on Thursday.

ISU has a five-year streak of winning a game at the MVC Tournament, but all of the victories occurred in the play-in round. The Sycamores haven’t won a quarterfinal game since 2001 when they won the tournament championship.

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