WICHITA, KAN. — Defeat the first-place team in the Atlantic Coast Conference? Check.
Defeat the first-place team in the Southeastern Conference entering play on Tuesday? Check.
But even after a nonconference season in which unfancied Indiana State defeated Miami and Mississippi, many observers stood on the sideline waiting for the Sycamores to get a similar victory in Missouri Valley Conference play before they saw fit to declare them a legitimate MVC title threat.
The wait is over.
Wave after wave of pressure from No. 15 Wichita State broke on the Sycamores' rocks and ISU also survived Koch Arena's wall of noise to post a 68-55 victory that gave ISU a road victory over the first-place team in the MVC.
"The teams in Hawaii [at the Diamond Head Classic] were pretty good too. Ole Miss, San Diego [State] and Miami were really good. The difference is that these guys were playing in front of their crowd ... the best crowd in the country," ISU forward Manny Arop said.
ISU beat its first ranked opponent since a 2011 victory over Vanderbilt. More important, ISU moved to 7-3 in the MVC, just one game behind the Shockers. ISU is a half-game behind second-place Creighton.
ISU (13-6, 7-3) used a 17-3 end-of-first half run and a 14-3 run to end the game to earn its biggest MVC road victory in several seasons.
Arop led ISU with 17 points. Devonte Brown and Jake Odum each had 10 points.
ISU thought outside the box to get the victory. ISU implemented a 2-3 zone for the first time this season, which forced the Shockers to rely on jump shots, which is not WSU’s forte. WSU made 9 of 28 from 3-point range and shot 27.1 percent overall.
"Every game we've gone into we thought we might use it for a few possessions here and there. Lou [Gudino, Associate Head Coach] thought it would be a great idea to switch things up on them. On a miss, we'd be man-to-man. On makes, we were zone. The guys really followed it," Lansing said.
WSU's All-MVC forward Carl Hall scored just two points and attempted just two shots.
"They forced us to shoot outside. They sagged in and really took the inside away. When we got it inside, we couldn't finish. We were 7-for-31 inside the arc," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
ISU also thrived without Odum -- who along with Justin Gant, fell ill on the trip -- on the court. Brown and Dawon Cummings each had their best MVC performances. Brown had 10 points and was a defensive spark. Cummings had nine points.
The Sycamores’ zone was a double-edged sword. The Shockers are not a great shooting team, but they are an outstanding rebounding team. At first, WSU made its outside shots and got rebounds. WSU began the half 4 of 8 from 3-point range and finished the first half with 10 offensive rebounds.
The upshot was that Hall and WSU's other big scorer -- Cleanthony Early -- couldn't get involved. As a result, the Sycamores never fell far behind. In fact, ISU led 14-10 early and its biggest first-half deficit was three.
That occurred at the 4:21 mark when the Shockers led 25-22. The first half transformed from that point and Brown played a huge role.
After Khristian Smith made a pair of free throws to cut the WSU lead to one, Brown had perhaps his best stretch of basketball as a Sycamore. He converted a three-point play at 3:47 – drawing Hall’s second foul in the process – which put ISU up 27-25.
Brown then cashed in a layup off of an Odum feed to widen ISU’s lead. He then stole a Demetric Williams pass, went coast-to-coast and managed to convert a spinning reverse layup circus shot to make it 31-25.
The Sycamores fed off Brown’s energy and the Shockers faltered.
It was 33-28 with 35 seconds left when Mahurin gave ISU another boost. He converted his fourth career four-point play to make it 37-28.
With WSU trying to run clock for the final possession of the first half, Smith provided the Sycamore crescendo to the half with a steal and coast-to-coast bucket to cap a 17-3 ISU run. The Sycamores went into the locker room sky-high with a 39-28 halftime advantage.
"Devonte was a key in the first half. He was terrific. So was Dawon and Khristian. Those guys are all good players. When you come off the bench, you can't come in passive, especially against these guys. They smell that blood in the water and it's over," Lansing said.
A raucous Koch Arena crowd and a sloppy effort by the Sycamores helped WSU start the second half on a 7-0 run. A Cummings three and an Arop jumper stopped the bleeding and ISU led by nine at the 14:53 mark.
"I didn't know if we'd ever score again. Dawon's got some guts. That was something coming into this game. I talked about guts and intestinal fortitude. Dawon hit a big shot," Lansing said.
WSU whittled away at ISU's advantage, using full-court pressure to bother the Sycamores and to speed up the tempo of the game to better favor their athletic lineup. A 10-2 WSU run cut ISU’s lead to 50-48 at 7:26. ISU had converted just five field goals to that point in the half.
ISU held on with bloody fingernails, but hold on they did.
It was 54-50 when Arop eased the pressure. Gant kept a loose ball alive on a tip off a WSU miss. Arop swooped on the loose ball and went coast-to-coast for a much-needed bucket.
"Coach preaches effort plays all the time. We're not the most talented team all the time, but coach reminds us to play with effort, with a chip on our shoulder. We wanted all of the 50/50 balls. We pride ourselves on that," Arop said.
On the next WSU possession, Brown jumped a Hall pass and went coast-to-coast for a layup to make it 58-50 with 3:35 left.
WSU (19-3, 8-2) never recovered. ISU ended the game on a 14-3 run. The Sycamores made 8 of 8 free throws down the stretch and the Shockers didn’t convert a field goal from the 9-minute mark until 20 seconds remained in the contest.
"They would seem to make every play, no matter what end it was on. They seemed to get every loose ball tonight which bothered me. That doesn't happen. It's not just lucky bounces. I have to figure out why they were quicker to the ball and tougher to retrieve it," Marshall said.
It was ISU's first win at Koch Arena since 2004 and it was just the eighth victory in 38 trips the venerable gym for the Sycamores. The victory broke WSU's 19-game home-court win streak.
"The team in blue played awfully hard and earned a very difficult win," Lansing said.
ISU next plays at Drake on Saturday.
INDIANA STATE (68) – Arop 7-11 2-5 17, Gant 2-2 2-2 6, Brown 4-6 2-3 10, Odum 2-7 6-6 10, Mahurin 3-8 1-1 8, Kitchell 1-1 0-0 2, Eitel 0-1 0-0 0, Cummings 4-5 0-0 9, K. Smith 1-4 4-4 6. 24-45 FG, 17-21 FT, 68 TP.
WICHITA STATE (53) – Armstead 2-11 0-0 5, Williams 4-14 4-4 14, Early 3-10 7-10 15, Orupke 0-2 0-1 0, Cotton 3-8 0-0 8, Wiggins 1-4 0-0 2, Hall 0-2 2-2 2, VanVleet 3-5 1-2 9, White 0-3 0-0 0. 16-59 FG, 14-19 FT, 53 TP.
Halftime score – ISU 39-28. 3-point goals – ISU 3-11 (Mahurin 1-4, Arop 1-3, Cummings 1-1, Eitel 0-1), WSU 9-28 (Williams 2-7, Early 2-6, Cotton 2-4, VanVleet 2-3, Armstead 1-8). Rebounds – ISU 35 (Arop 6, Team 6, Gant 4, Mahurin 4, Brown 3, Eitel 3, K. Smith 3, Odum 2, Kitchell 2, Cummings 2), WSU 34 (Early 11, Orupke 6, Hall 6, Armstead 3, Cotton 2, Wiggins 2, White 2, VanVleet 1, Team), Assists – ISU 5 (Odum 4, Kitchell), WSU 10 (Armstead 4, Williams 2, VanVleet 2, Early, Hall), Steals – ISU 7 (Arop 2, Brown 2, Gant, Mahurin, K. Smith), WSU 5 (Armstead 2, Williams, Early, Orupke), Blocks – ISU 3 (Mahruin, Kitchell, K. Smith), WSU 2 (Early, Orupke), Turnovers – ISU 15 (Gant 3, Brown 3, Cummings 3, Kitchell 2, Arop, Odum, Eitel, K. Smith), WSU 11 (Armstead 3, Williams 2, Cotton 2, Orupke, Hall, VanVleet, White), Total fouls – ISU 17, WSU 17. A – 10,216.
Next – ISU (13-6, 7-3) plays at Drake and Wichita State (19-4, 8-2) plays at Northern Iowa on Saturday.