Indiana State's bench rode to rescue in a way that would make any calvary proud on Wednesday at Loyola.
ISU's bench scored 37 points as the Sycamores defeated the Ramblers 65-61 at Gentile Center to improve to 6-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Khristian Smith led ISU (15-4, 6-1) with 18 points. Brandon Burnett had a career-high 10 points. Jake Kitchell tied a career-high with seven rebounds.
The Sycamore trio came off the bench to make their contributions and kept ISU from taking on too much water as its starters struggled mightily for most of the contest.
"We showed the depth that we have. It's times like this where we really just have to be tough on the road," Smith said. "We'll take it. It's a conference win on the road and they're always tough, especially coming off the loss at Wichita [last Saturday]."
It wasn't one for the scrapbook by any stretch of the imagination. Kitchell described it as "ugly", but one that exemplified ISU's toughness.
"Those ugly wins ... fans don't like them. We don't necessarily like them, but I think it's a toughness thing" Kitchell said. "When it boils down to it, when the game comes down to it like it did, we're a veteran group and took care of business towards the end of the game. It comes down to gutting it out and being the tougher team."
But the bench had to get ISU there first and it was in the first half was where the bench came through the most.
ISU's starters were ice cold from the field. The Sycamores' starting five combined to clank 1 of 15 from the field in the first 20 minutes.
The first Sycamore off the bench to ride to the rescue was Smith. He scored ISU's first 11 points and scored in equal parts on drives and on jump shots. His spurt -- he scored the 11 points in the span of just over four minutes -- minimized the damage Loyola could inflict. The Ramblers led 12-11 after the Smith burst.
Later, it was Burnett who provided a lift. Loyola led 24-18 when Burnett helped jump-start a 10-0 ISU run that helped the Sycamores take their first lead of the contest.
Burnett scored seven of the points in the run. ISU led 28-24 at the end of it.
"I just had to be aggressive and have confidence. My teammates believe in me and that helps a lot. They always tell me to do what I can on offense," Burnett said. "It's really gratifying. I work hard every day. We have a deep team and we have older guys. I have to be patient, but it feels good to get the opportunity and show I know how to play. I'm not just a bench-warmer."
Kitchell (who had six first-half rebounds) and Devonte Brown also provided key buckets and ISU led 28-27 at the half. The starters' collective slump meant ISU shot just 27.6 percent from the field in the opening half, but the damage was minimal.
ISU's bench was 7 of 14 from the field with 11 rebounds and three assists at halftime. It was a sharp contrast to ISU's starters whose 1 of 15 performances was added to just seven rebounds and one assist.
"The bench absolutely saved us. Khristian, Brandon and Kitch, when they came in, they turned the game around and got us the lead," ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
If a message needed to be delivered to ISU's starting group, it was delivered in no uncertain terms when Lansing started Smith, Burnett and Kitchell in the second half in place of Manny Arop (who finished scoreless), Justin Gant and Demetrius Moore.
"We were either going to start [the second half] with all three of them or none of them. Those guys picked us up and you reward guys like that. We say we have more than five starters on this team. So for this second half it was a reward for how they picked us up," Lansing said.
ISU's lead reached six early in the second half before the Sycamores' offense got stuck in gear once more. Loyola whittled away, and when ISU went five minutes without a field goal, it gave the Ramblers the window they needed to take a 52-50 lead with 6:07 left.
That's when ISU starters woke up.
Jake Odum converted a bucket and was fouled to knot game. Odum missed the free throw, but Gant tipped offensive rebound back to him. Odum got another chance at a traditional three-point play, and this time, he converted it to put ISU in front 55-52.
Arop then stole the ball from Loyola's Devon Turk and Gant made a 7-foot jumper to put the Sycamores ahead 57-52.
Gant recovered from a poor start and had eight rebounds. Odum finished with 14 points and four rebounds.
The Sycamores hung on from there, but not without some uncomfortable moments. Loyola (7-12, 2-5) had four chances to draw within a possession of ISU in the final two minutes, but couldn't do it until a Jeff White 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left. By then, it was too late.
"It was grind, but we never gave in and we never gave up. That's how it is on the road sometimes," Burnett said.
ISU returns home as it hosts Illinois State at 6 p.m. on Saturday. It's part of a doubleheader. The ISU women play host to Missouri State at 2 p.m.
"We can't disappoint our fans. We look forward to it. We'll come in more energized and with more focus," Smith said.
INDIANA STATE (65) -- Gant 3-8 1-2 7, Moore 0-0 0-0 0, Arop 0-5 0-1 0, Cummings 2-8 1-2 7, Odum 4-9 6-10 14, Kitchell 2-2 2-2 6, Eitel 0-1 0-0 0, Brown 1-3 0-0 3, Burnett 3-5 2-3 10, Smith 5-11 7-8 18. 20-52 FG, 19-28 FT, 65 TP.
LOYOLA (61) -- Johnson 0-3 0-0 0, Thomas 4-7 3-6 11, Crisman 2-5 1-2 5, White 5-8 1-2 13, Doyle 6-12 4-6 20, Turk 3-8 1-1 7, O'Leary 0-1 0-0 0, Osborne 2-4 0-0 5. 22-48 FG, 10-17 FT, 61 TP.
Halftime -- ISU 28-27. 3-point goals -- ISU 6-24 (Cummings 2-7, Burnett 2-3, Smith 1-4, Brown 1-2, Odum 0-3, Arop 0-3, Gant 0-2); LU 7-20 (Doyle 4-9, White 2-2, Osborne 1-2, Turk 0-4, Thomas 0-1, Crisman 0-1, O'Leary 0-1). Rebounds -- ISU 41 (Gant 8, Kitchell 7, Team 6, Cummings 4, Odum 4, Smith 4, Burnett 3, Brown 2); LU 28 (Osborne 7, White 6, Thomas 6, Johnson 4, Doyle 2, Team 2, Crisman). Assists -- ISU 13 (Cummings 4, Brown 4, Odum 2, Smith 2, Arop); LU 10 (Doyle 4, Thomas 2, White, Turk, O'Leary, Osborne). Steals -- ISU 5 (Arop 2, Cummings, Brown, Smith); LU 4 (Crisman 3, Thomas). Blocks -- ISU 2 (Cummings, Smith); LU 2 (Crisman, Doyle). Turnovers -- ISU 9 (Brown 3, Odum 2, Team 2, Gant, Smith); LU 10 (White 2, Doyle 2, Turk 2, O'Leary, Osborne, Johnson, Thomas). Total fouls -- ISU 16, LU 19. Fouled out -- Bradshaw. A -- 1,180.
Next -- ISU (15-4, 6-1) plays host to Illinois State and Loyola (7-12, 2-5) plays host to Northern Iowa on Saturday.