News From Terre Haute, Indiana

College

January 8, 2011

Sycamores de-clawl 2-time MVC champions Northern Iowa Panthers 70-45

Freshman guards Odum, McWhorter spark the Indiana State men, now 3-1 in early Missouri Valley action

TERRE HAUTE — If Indiana State was to make an early case that it can contend in the Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball race this season, the key game among its first five league contests was thought to be Friday’s home contest against two-time defending MVC champion Northern Iowa.

If ISU could beat the Panthers it might begin to turn heads elsewhere in the league.

Not only did ISU win, it crushed UNI 70-45 in front of 5,164 at Hulman Center. Given the final score and the incredible ease the Sycamores had in winning without leading scorers Dwayne Lathan and Jake Kelly, ISU might have broken some necks instead of turning heads.

“They did a lot of good things at both ends of the floor and a lot of guys played well for them. They defended well, they played better in this game than we did,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said.

The Sycamores (8-7, 3-1) never left the outcome in doubt as it started the game with a 21-5 advantage and never allowed the Panthers to get closer than 11 for the rest of the game. ISU enjoyed a 38-15 halftime lead and the Panthers (10-6, 1-3) couldn’t get closer than a 22-point deficit for the rest of the game.

“I can’t say enough about our guys. From top to bottom, I’m really pleased with the effort and unselfishness our guys are playing with,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said. “We played the best 40 minutes we’ve played.”

Playing without Lathan (concussion) for the second game in a row and without Kelly (foot) for the fourth-straight game, ISU played unselfish on the offensive end (19-to-11 assist-to-turnover ratio) and made life difficult for UNI on the defensive end.

Steve McWhorter, who made just his second career start, led ISU with 15 points and also had three assists. Jake Odum had 10 points, seven assists and three steals. Jordan Printy had 11 points and Myles Walker had 10 to round out ISU’s quartet of double-figure scorers.

As good as McWhorter and Odum were on the offensive end, the pair might have been better on the defensive side. Both had the task of guarding UNI senior point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe, one of the lynch-pins in UNI’s double MVC championship run. McWhorter and Odum drove Ahelegbe to distraction. He had four turnovers, zero assists and was 1 of 6 from the field.

“Keeping Ahelegbe in check and shutting him down means more to me [than Odum’s offensive totals]. That team runs on how he goes. We started Steve on him and I told him, ‘You cut the head off right here by shutting down Ahelegbe.’ He did a really good job,” Odum said.

“It was all about defense and we pride ourselves on help defense. My teammates helped me around the screens with him and to make his shots tough. It’s way better than how many points we had,” McWhorter added.

It wasn’t just ISU’s guards that defended UNI well. Team defense prevented UNI from scoring a field goal until the 10:38 mark of the first half. By then, ISU had made seven field goals of its own and led 18-2. The Panthers made just 5 of 26 in the first half and 11 of 46 overall for an ice-cold 23.9 shooting percentage. UNI didn’t make its 10th field goal of the game until there was five minutes left in the contest.

“At the start of the year, we showed our guys defensive clips of Northern Iowa, we call it championship defense,” Lansing said. “We want to emulate that and our guys are starting to work like that in practice. If they continue to fight and guard like that and help each other, we can be OK.”

Walker got ISU going on the offensive end. The junior college transfer had not made better than 50 percent from the field in his last three games and had not made more than three shots in any game since ISU played Notre Dame on Nov. 30.

Walker had three buckets by the 15:31 mark of the game against the Panthers and his scoring inside opened things up for ISU’s guards to bomb away from the outside. ISU shot 53.8 percent from 3-point range in the first half.

“I felt really, really good at the beginning of the game, I don’t know what got into me,” Walker said. “Jake Odum kept feeding me the ball and I kept scoring. Every time I kept scoring, they’d collapse down and I tried to back them down and get the ball back out to the guards for a three.”

ISU led 29-12 at one point, the same margin it had at Evansville on Jan. 1, but this time the Sycamores kept the pressure on. ISU went on a 7-0 run just before halftime to inflate its lead to 38-13.

The Panthers had nothing for the Sycamores in the second half either. ISU led by as much as 31 and the 25-point margin of victory was ISU’s biggest in a conference game since a 30-point victory over Evansville in 2008.

ISU, now 6-0 at Hulman Center, will go on the road to play Drake at 6 p.m. Sunday. ISU plays Wednesday at Bradley.

“We let a huge one go at Evansville. We could easily be 4-0 right now. To finish at the top of the league, you have to win on the road and it starts on Sunday,” Odum said.

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