TERRE HAUTE —
Sometimes a dose of perspective is not only welcome, but necessary.
One couldn’t blame any Indiana State fan for walking out of Hulman Center on Saturday with a sense of relief, and maybe even some frustration, after ISU labored to defeat Bradley 62-59.
The Sycamores didn’t play well, and though they saved themselves in the end with timely shooting and forced turnovers, they were fortunate to be in that position after Bradley missed several opportunities to do the same and build a gap earlier in the contest.
It wasn’t a game that’s going to go into anyone’s time capsule, but in the end, it was just a bad day at the office that could have been much worse for the Sycamores.
What ISU guard Lucas Eitel contended with on Saturday was far more.
Eitel played on Saturday just hours after morning funeral services for his grandfather, Ray Welsh, were conducted in West Terre Haute. Welsh’s burial took place in Dennison, Ill.
Eitel missed ISU’s shootaround to attend his grandfather’s service, but when it mattered, the shots he wanted to fall, the shots he prayed would fall, did.
Eitel drained three 3-pointers in the last 8:33 of the second half. The first of them got ISU pointed in the right direction after Bradley’s lead peaked at six, the second of them restored ISU’s lead, and the last of them came in the midst of a game-deciding 10-0 run that saw ISU (13-3, 4-0) earn its 10th win in 11 tries.
The first shot Eitel was most important. It’s the one he wanted to make for his grandfather. When it fell, it was a huge thrill as well as a confidence-booster to take some more.
“He was a season ticket-holder here and was a big supporter. Coming into this game, I wanted to win it for my grandpa. I was really big on hitting my first three for my grandpa,” Eitel said. “When that first one went down, I felt really good, so I think that gave me extra confidence. That was my backbone.”
The shot sliced ISU’s deficit to one. The Hulman Center crowd of 5,545 — silent for much of the game due to ISU’s struggles — erupted when Eitel hit the shot. Most couldn’t have known Eitel was playing through a family loss, but it was gratifying just the same.
“I was surprised the crowd went nuts on the first one I hit. It’s awesome to have support from the fans. It felt good when they went nuts that’s for sure,” Eitel said.
Eitel was asked if it was hard to play on Saturday.
“It wasn’t tough to play because I know he’d want me to play. It was a great service this morning and I paid my respects to him. He was always at the games supporting me and he always wanted to play, so I think he would’ve wanted me to play today,” Eitel said.
ISU point guard Jake Odum, who led the Sycamores with 12 points, though Eitel’s grandfather was there in spirit.
“I really think his grandpa was in the crowd tonight. He was looking down and watching it. It was great that Luke was able to do that,” Odum said. “He’s our zone-buster. They came out with a 1-1-3 zone, he hit his second one, and boom, they’re out of their zone.”
Eitel’s second 3-point make put ISU up 47-46 with 5:17 to play. After Bradley took one more lead, the Sycamores finally put the gas pedal down. A 10-0 run — fueled by a Devonte Brown layup, a Justin Gant 17-footer and 3-pointers by Eitel and Dawon Cummings — gave ISU a 57-49 lead with 1:16 to go.
Brown loomed large in the build up to ISU’s finishing surge. Eitel’s first 3-pointer was set-up when Brown jumped a pass by Bradley’s Walt Lemon Jr. Brown jumped another Lemon pass on Bradley’s next possession. While ISU didn’t score off that turnover, the Brown steals knocked the Braves out of rhythm, and they struggled to recover it. It also gave ISU a badly-needed lift.
“I had to take it upon to try to do something defensively and play off of other guys. I read their eyes, got in the lane and got the steals,” Brown said.
Until the late surge, it had been a study in misery for the Sycamores. ISU struggled all game against a shifting Bradley defense that would alternately trap and then run zone against the Sycamores. ISU — the eighth-best 3-point shooting team entering the contest — was poor from long-range at 31.7 percent. ISU also hurt itself at the free throw line with a 20 of 33 performance. ISU had 14 turnovers, 12 came in the first half.
What helped the Sycamores greatly was Bradley’s inability to take advantage of ISU’s off-day. Of those 12 ISU first-half turnovers, Bradley scored just four points from them. The Braves (6-11, 1-3) missed several open layups. When Bradley shots failed to connect, the Braves began to force low-percentage shots that made their plight worse.
ISU managed a 25-24 halftime lead despite the turnovers and a 32.3 percent shooting performance in the opening half.
“We lost the game offensively with missed layups and gave ourselves no chance late with missed free throws,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said. “When you go on the road and play a team this good, you can’t afford missed layups and free throws.”
There was more of the same for the first 10 minutes of the second half. Bradley broke a tie with an 8-2 run to take a 44-38 lead with 10:04 left. That’s when the Sycamores responded thanks to the jump-start provided by Brown and Eitel.
“Once again our bench saved us. It’s tough to even call them our bench because we have nine or 10 guys who can start in this league. We wear down teams and when you sub out one of our starters, there’s no dropoff,” Odum said.
ISU won its first four games in MVC play since 1979. The Sycamores hope to continue their unbeaten start as Missouri State visits on Wednesday.
“It’s the sign of a good team when you can struggle like that and come out with a win in this league,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
TERRE HAUTE —
Sometimes a dose of perspective is not only welcome, but necessary.
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