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Redbirds at March Madness 30 years ago this month

Illinois State men's basketball player with ball

Illinois State men's basketball playing in the second round of the 1985 NCAA Tournament against Oklahoma.

How many of your brackets have imploded in the last few days? If you have already thrown your picks into the shredder, here’s some Illinois State University Redbird basketball history to cheer you up! Did you know that 30 years ago this month, both the women’s and the men’s Redbird basketball teams made appearances in the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament?  This was the second and last time that both teams made it together to the NCAA tournament; the first time together was in 1983.

The women’s team had a great 1984–1985 season, going 23-6 and becoming the Gateway Collegiate Conference (a women’s only athletic conference that is now part of the Missouri Valley Conference) champion. During its season, the team held a 10-game winning streak until they were beaten by Drake, 88-78. The loss fueled the Redbirds’ determination, and they won their next several games that included a rout on Wichita State, 68-48, and victory over Bradley, 63-50.  They would meet Drake again, this time defeating them, 79-74, and winning their final three games of the season. Their conference win meant a bid to the NCAA Tournament where the Redbirds met Louisiana Tech, an old Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women opponent, in the first round of play. However, the Redbirds season came to an end when Louisiana Tech beat them, 81-57.

The men’s team had a pretty remarkable season as well. The Redbirds went 21-6 in the 1984–85 season, having come off two back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 1983 and 1984. So, it came as a shock when the team was upset in first round of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament by Indiana State, 66-61. Coupled with an early season loss to a then highly ranked DePaul, the Redbirds’ chances of making it to their third straight appearance at the NCAA Tournament were slim. But they got the call, and the Redbirds were seeded at No. 9 and paired to play No. 8-seeded Southern California (USC). The Redbirds defeated USC, 58-55, and moved to the next round to face the Oklahoma Sooners. There they not only faced renowned head coach Billy Tubbs but recent Olympic gold medalist Wayman Tisdale. In a hard fight, the Redbirds lost 75-69 and ended their 1985 NCAA Tournament run.

The men’s basketball team is currently making history: playing for the 13time in the National Invitation Tournament. The team was to play Old Dominion March 23 in Norfolk, Virginia, in a second round match. Keep making history, Redbirds!

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