'Long time coming': ISU and IWU renew basketball rivalry; women join in doubleheader
The Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan basketball teams will face each other in twin exhibition games in October, the universities announced Monday. It’s the first game between the men’s teams in more than 50 years, and the first time ever for the women’s teams.
The exhibition games are set for Oct. 29 at CEFCU Arena. The women’s game will tip off at 1 p.m.; the men’s game will start 30 minutes after the women’s game ends.
ISU and IWU have played each other 104 times, though it’s been a while since the crosstown matchup was an annual tradition. ISU and IWU last squared off in men’s basketball on Jan. 13, 1970, a game the Titans won.
The IWU men’s basketball program recently marked the anniversary of that game played at Horton Field House. IWU coach Ron Rose said that served as a motivator to bring the two programs back together.
“I think that spurred the thought maybe it’s time to do this again,” Rose said during a news conference Monday at CEFCU Arena, adding he posed the idea to ISU coach Ryan Pedon last summer.
Pedon, ISU’s second-year coach, agreed the game was long overdue.
“Since I arrived here, I’ve heard people in the community talk about this game like it’s something they are missing. That matters to me. I talk about wanting our program to be the fabric of our community," Pedon said. "It's a long time coming, that's for sure."
IWU women’s coach Mia Smith indicated a link between the schools' two coaching staffs. Current assistant and former ISU women’s basketball graduate assistant Brian Ehresman and ISU associate coach Scott Gillespie, planted the seed during a trip to a recruiting event a few years ago.
“They said, ‘Do you think we can talk our head coaches into playing this game?’ And here we are,” Smith said.
ISU women’s coach Kristen Gillespie said the two women’s programs have connections that go beyond staff, so it only makes sense for them to play each other.
“What I love is it’s two universities that really value women’s athletics and if you look at the history, I think it speaks for itself,” Gillespie said.
Smith added the game will be a great showcase for her program to go up against a Division I program.
“I have goosebumps thinking about it. It’s been on my mind for the last couple of weeks,” said Smith, adding her players have asked to start practicing earlier because they are eager to start the season.
“Being able to put ourselves on the floor with them in front of this community, what a hotbed Bloomington-Normal is for basketball. I just don’t think you could do it any place better than right here in Bloomington-Normal,” Smith said.
Tickets go on sale Oct. 2. Tickets cost $20 and will give entry to both games of the doubleheader. ISU and IWU students with a student ID will be admitted for free.
Proceeds will be split between Western Avenue Community Center and a mental health collaboration between the schools.
The coaches would not say whether they planned for these games to become part of a new annual tradition, citing scheduling challenges from year to year.
“I certainly don’t think it should be 53 years before we play them again,” Pedon quipped.