By Todd Golden
Cedar Falls, Iowa — Maybe it was the uniforms? No … that’s not it.
The Indiana State men’s basketball team debuted its 1979 throwback jerseys at Northern Iowa on Sunday, but what was more important for the Sycamores than the retro threads was the toughness they wore on the sleeves. At long last, the Sycamores proved their grit and they were rewarded with a badly needed 85-84 double-overtime victory.
It is ISU’s first victory at UNI since 2002 and its first in three trips to the McLeod Center. It was the third time in four seasons ISU has won its Missouri Valley Conference opener.
This one, however, was the sweetest and most important by far. The reeling Sycamores (3-9, 1-0) needed a victory under any circumstance, but to gut out a double-overtime victory on the road after ISU led by as much as 21 in the first half is a confidence and character-building cherry on ISU’s sundae.
“The character of this team ... we showed that we can do it,” said ISU guard Harry Marshall, who led ISU with 23 points. “We showed we could do it on the road, we showed we wouldn’t get down after giving up a lead. We believed in ourselves, we believed in the coaches, we believed in each other.”
ISU coach Kevin McKenna was thrilled to see the Sycamores get tough.
“We always talk about 40 minutes of toughness; today we needed 50 minutes. When a shot [for UNI] goes in, it would have been really easy to say, ‘We should have done this or that,’ but our guys kept fighting and hit enough shots to get it done,” McKenna said.
Marshall was dominant at times, including a stretch where he scored nine of ISU’s 10 points late in regulation to deaden the impact of a UNI rally, but Carl Richard — who has struggled in his freshman season to date — came up even bigger with a 15-point, 11-rebound effort off the bench as Brant Leitnaker started to match up with UNI big man Jordan Eglseder.
“I always go to the boards, but to see my teammates come with me? That let me get a little one-on-one with my man,” said Richard, who helped ISU win the rebounding battle for the first time against a Division I opponent this season.
Neither Richard nor Marshall hit the biggest shot for the Sycamores in double overtime. That honor was saved for Aaron Carter.
ISU trailed 79-77 with a minute left and had already squandered one possession where it could have tied the game. Richard got the ball under the basket and kicked it out to Carter in the right corner. Carter launched a 3-pointer, was fouled by UNI’s Ali Farokhmanesh, and the shot went in to set up an improbable 4-point opportunity. Carter made the free throw, and in a flash, ISU went from a dicey two-point deficit to an uplifting two-point lead.
The play embodied ISU’s unselfish play.
“High school was probably the last time I had a four-point play, but I’ve never had one in that situation,” Carter said. “[Richard] drove baseline and we played so unselfish the whole game and it got us the win.”
UNI (6-6, 0-1) wasn’t done by any means. Johnny Moran missed a 3-pointer, but Travis Brown rebounded and was fouled. He made both free throws to tie the game. ISU got the ball back in Marshall’s hands and he was fouled by Adam Koch trying to penetrate the lane with 17.6 seconds left. Marshall made both free throws to put the Sycamores up 83-81.
Unlike previous game-deciding scenarios, UNI went out with a whimper. Kwadzo Ahelegbe, whose slippery ways inside the 3-point arc confounded ISU throughout the game, missed a leaner in the paint, ISU rebounded and kicked it out to Rashad Reed in the open. Reed was fouled and clinched it with two free throws with six seconds left.
Until that point, ISU had to survive one UNI comeback and one clutch shot after another.
In regulation, ISU built a 21-point first-half lead with excellent shooting, good defense and avoidance of turnovers. The Sycamores shot 64 percent in the first half and settled for a 41-24 halftime lead. Marshall, Richard and Jay Tunnell all had five or more points at the break and ISU had 11 assists at halftime as it shared the ball much better.
That wasn’t the case in the second half as UNI chipped away at ISU’s lead. UNI twice cut ISU’s lead to eight, only to have the Sycamores counter with a run of their own. The Panthers finally made a run stick with a 12-2 rally that cut ISU’s lead to two with 4:04 left.
“The first half we played as well as we have all year sharing the ball and making plays for each other. In the second half, we got stagnant and their defense improved,” McKenna said.
ISU never let UNI take the lead and appeared to get the play it needed to win the game when Tunnell took a charge with 12 seconds left. Marshall proceeded to make a pair of free throws to make it 65-62 with 9.4 seconds to go. Ahelegbe, though, threw a short pass to Brown at the top of the key and ISU’s defense was a tad too late in its zone. Brown buried the 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime.
UNI never led in the first overtime, but ISU couldn’t break away. A pair of Reed free throws put ISU up 72-68, but Farokhmanesh buried a tough 3-pointer just seconds later to keep the game in doubt. Marshall made one of two at the line with 40 seconds left to make it 73-71, Ahelegbe answered with a lay-up with 19 seconds left to tie it. ISU played for the last shot, but Marshall’s six-footer went off the rim at the buzzer to force another overtime.
Carter was huge for the Sycamores in the second overtime. UNI took its first lead since the 15:55 mark of the first half and led 77-73. After Marshall hit a free throw to cut the ISU deficit to one possession, he missed the second freebie and Tunnell tipped the offensive rebound out to Reed on the perimeter. Tipping the ball on a rebound is a trait McKenna had emphasized to the big men during practice on Thursday.
ISU eventually found Carter on the wing who buried a game-tying 3-pointer. Ahelegbe — who set the UNI scoring record at McLeod Center with 28 points — later hit a pair of free throws to put UNI up two to set up Carter’s four-point play. Carter had seven of his 16 points in the second overtime period.
“It was a team effort from the tip to the end of double overtime. Even though we were down, we were talking in the huddle, letting each other know this was our game. This was a true team win,” Marshall said.
ISU returns home and plays host to Creighton on Wednesday afternoon.
Indiana State 85
Player min fg 3pt ft r a pf tp
Tunnell 42 4-6 3-5 3-4 7 1 3 14
Leitnaker 14 1-3 0-0 0-0 1 0 3 2
Reed 42 1-4 0-3 4-4 5 3 2 6
Marshall 48 6-17 2-5 9-14 4 6 2 23
Carter 37 5-10 3-7 3-3 5 2 2 16
Crawford 6 2-2 0-0 0-0 1 0 1 4
Martin 10 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 1 3 2
Printy 15 1-2 1-2 0-0 1 0 2 3
Richard 36 6-9 1-3 2-4 11 0 1 15
Totals 27-55 10-25 21-29 *37 13 19 85
Northern Iowa 84
Player min fg 3pt ft r a pf tp
Koch 32 2-8 1-2 6-6 3 0 5 11
Eglseder 18 1-4 0-1 2-2 5 0 0 4
Farokhmanesh 35 7-11 4-6 2-2 1 3 5 20
Ahelegbe 46 11-19 2-3 4-5 3 3 4 28
Moran 41 2-9 2-6 0-0 3 1 5 6
Haak 5 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 0
Brown 33 3-8 1-5 3-5 5 2 0 10
Dunham 11 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 2 0
O’Rear 25 1-2 0-0 3-3 8 0 5 5
Rodenberg 4 0-1 0-0 0-1 1 0 0 0
Totals 27-63 10-24 20-24 *35 9 26 84
Halftime score — ISU 41, UNI 24. Regulation — 65-65. First OT — 73-73. FG Pct. — ISU .491, UNI .429. 3-pt FG Pct. — ISU .400, UNI .417. FT Pct. — ISU .724, UNI .833. (*) Includes team rebounds — ISU 2, UNI 6. Turnovers — ISU 15, UNI 14. Steals — ISU 3 (Marshall 2), UNI 6 (Farokhmanesh 2). Blocks — ISU 3 (Carter, Crawford, Richard), UNI 2 (O’Rear 2). Att — 3,462.
Next — Indiana State (3-9, 1-0 in Missouri Valley Conference) has a home game against Creighton and Northern Iowa (6-6, 0-1) plays at Southern Illinois, both on Wednesday.