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January 15, 2014

Comfort zone: ISU to 5-0 in MVC with 70-55 win over Missouri State

TERRE HAUTE — Every victory has its own story to tell. What’s the story in Indiana State’s 70-55 win over Missouri State on Wednesday at Hulman Center.

It was comfortable.

While that might not seem noteworthy, consider that ISU has usually had some drama in its wins this season. But this time, there was no second-half run to make ISU nervous, no lapse in defensive effort to give Missouri State a window, and ultimately, no hope for the injury-plagued Bears to steal a road win.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do. They have an all-conference guy that’s out, they’re on the road. We knew we needed to come out and go at that them early and keep pushing,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said. “We did a good job, but that’s what we were supposed to do.”

ISU (14-3, 5-0) won its seventh consecutive game, its longest win streak since the 2005-06 season when the Sycamores started that season 8-0. It was also ISU’s 12th win in 13 games and kept ISU perfect in the Missouri Valley Conference at 5-0.

A balanced scoring effort was evidenced by ISU’s three-headed monster at the top of the scoring list. Manny Arop, Dawon Cummings and Khristian Smith each had 14 points. Demetrius Moore added 12. Odum had four points, but had 10 assists — nine dished in the first half — as he took what Missouri State’s defense was willing to give him.

“It was clicking. The last couple of times we’ve played Missouri State they’ve sagged off me a lot. It allowed me to probe a bit and get some pitch action with some of our guards,” Odum said.

ISU shot 48.2 percent from the field, recovering its offensive mojo after an off-game against Bradley last Saturday. ISU also had 18 assists against just six turnovers. No Sycamore had more than one giveaway.

ISU also played solid defense. Missouri State (12-5, 2-3) played without leading scorer Marcus Marshall and starter Keith Pickens. Without Marshall — Missouri State announced he would miss the remainder of the season — the Bears were challenged in the scoring department as Jarmar Gulley was their only proven scorer.

Gulley had 16 to lead the Bears, but he was the only Missouri State player in double-figures. Other players Missouri State hoped would step up — Gavin Thurman, Austin Ruder and Devon Thomas — were non-factors.

“We’re happy with our progress, but we can’t be satisfied. We had good spurts, but there were times we didn’t communicate. We can get better,” Smith said.

Odum had the assignment on Ruder and took the 42.9 3-point percent shooter out of the game. Ruder didn’t take a single shot in the first half and didn’t make any 3-pointers at all. It’s the first time since Nov. 24 that Ruder didn’t convert a three.

“With [Marcus Marshall] out, we were able to key more on Ruder. I didn’t have to help as much. I didn’t have to come off because Marshall didn’t have the ball. He didn’t hit a 3-pointer and that was one of our goals going in,” Odum said.

The comfort of the victory was something the Sycamores knew they needed to accomplish.

“With the runs we sometimes give up in the second half, we had to take that out of our game. We’re going to play against teams down the road where we can’t have that lapse,” Cummings said.

A quick start helped ISU enjoy a comfortable first half. With Missouri State trying to find its way without two of its best players, the Sycamores pounced and led 17-6. ISU’s defense was problematic for the Bears as the Sycamores defended off the ball and took away the Bears’ options aside from Gulley.

ISU’s lead peaked at 14, but a 7-0 Missouri State run late in the half cut ISU’s lead to 33-27 with 3:47 left. The Sycamores punched back by scoring the last six points of the half to lead 39-27 at halftime.

But there was cause for concern with 1:39 left in the half when Odum’s head was hit in a collision with Missouri State’s Ron Mvouika on a Mvouika offensive foul. Odum went down to the floor hard and writhed in pain as he grabbed the back of his head with both hands.

Odum underwent the concussion protocol at halftime, but returned to action.

“He goes so hard and throws his body all over the place. That happens to him all of the time. He wears body armor. You’re worried when his head hits, but the doctor’s checked him at half and he was OK. We’ll probably do our protocol with him and he won’t practice much,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.

ISU had another injury scare early in the second half when Justin Gant fell awkwardly and hurt his right leg, but he soldiered on as well.

ISU’s lead was 43-27 with 17:46 to go when the Bears mounted their only second-half threat. A 7-0 run made it 43-34, but the Sycamores would score on their next six possessions and the Bears would not threaten again. ISU’s lead peaked at 19 with 3:54 left in the contest.

The victory sets up one of the biggest regular season games in ISU’s recent history. The Sycamores, unbeaten in MVC play, travel to Wichita State to play the No. 5 Shockers, unbeaten in 18 games overall. The MVC lead in the offing for the victor.

“We have to stay humble. Each game is important. This was marked on everyone’s calendar. We’ll be hungry for it and hopefully it will turn out like we want to,” Smith said.

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