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Redbirds advance to NIT and WNIT

Osiris Eldridge shooting over Creighton players

Even though neither the Illinois State men’s or women’s basketball teams brought home the 2009 State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title, both programs advanced to postseason play for the second-straight season.

Both the Redbird men’s and women’s programs have 24 wins this season. With one more victory by each gender, Illinois State would become only the fourth NCAA Division I program in the nation to post 25-win seasons in back-to-back years by both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. With a pair of wins, Illinois State would join Duke, Gonzaga and North Carolina among the basketball elite teams.

The men’s team competed in its second-straight National Invitational Tournament (NIT) at Kansas State. The Redbirds made back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons when Illinois State advanced to consecutive NCAA Tournaments. ISU owns a 7-10 all-time record in the NIT, including a win last season over Utah State in the opening round on the Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena.

The Redbird men had to shake off a disappointing 60-57 overtime loss to Northern Iowa in the championship game of the Valley Tournament. Despite the loss, ISU junior Osiris Eldridge was named the tournament’s most outstanding player (MOP), marking only the second time in league history that the award was presented to a member from the runner-up team.

The ISU women continued its season with a first-round bye, followed by hosting Louisiana Tech in the second round, a game that they won 73-59. The Redbirds advanced to the Elite Eight in the WNIT by defeating Big East powerhouse Marquette in a 51-50 thriller, and then they won against the Hoosiers (66-55) to advance to the final four this Wednesday.

The Redbirds have now advanced to postseason play for three-straight seasons and four of the last five. ISU claimed its first outright Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title in 20 years, but suffered a heartbreaking 73-60 loss to Evansville in the league tournament quarterfinals.

The Redbirds are led by Kristi Cirone, who a week ago captured her third-straight Jackie Stiles MVC Player of the Year Award. Other than the trophy’s namesake, Cirone is the only other player in conference history to win the honor three times.

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