TERRE HAUTE —
The shooting was right. The defense was more than right. The rebounding was wrong.
Two out of three ain’t bad for the Indiana State men’s basketball team, whose right trumped the wrong against Winthrop.
The Sycamores rode stifling defense and a good shooting night to a 66-55 victory over the Eagles in front of 4,916 at Hulman Center in the season’s home opener.
Jake Odum led the way with 15 points. Justin Gant added 14. Dawon Cummings had 11 and R.J. Mahurin 10.
ISU (1-1) shot 56.8 percent from the field and held the Eagles to 32.2 percent. Winthrop had a 34-28 rebounding, including 18 offensive rebounds, but ISU carried the day anyway.
The Sycamores’ defense had a lot to do with it. The Sycamores’ defense got better as the game went along — Winthrop had made just 4 of 18 from the field in the second half with 7:55 left in the game.
For a team searching for an identity with seven new players, to establish it on the defensive end was a welcome site.
“Our offense is always going to be there, but if we hold teams to 55 points? We’re going to win games. If we can keep doing that and focus on possession-by-possession defense, that’s what wins championships,” Odum said.
ISU also shook off the shooting woes that had dogged it in its earlier contests. Not only did ISU shoot 56.8 percent overall, but also made 50 percent from 3-point range.
About the only thing that held ISU back offensively were its nine turnovers.
“Our efficiency wasn’t too bad. We just need to stop turning it over. We need to flip-flop our assist-to-turnover that we’ve had. We’ll do that. Other than Jake and R.J., the other guys are trying to find their way,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
Gant had his second strong game in a row. He was 6 of 8 from the field and was aggressive. It’s a welcome sight for a team that is searching for someone to take the reigns in the paint. And it’s a welcome sight for Gant — who was inconsistent as a freshman — to have a good start.
“He’s very talented. We all know that and we know his liabilities. He’s going to fight through that. He’s going the reputation of him not being the most competitive guy and the hard-working guy out there. He’s doing a lot of good things and he’s fighting through a hamstring that’s bothered him,” Lansing said.
Gant is happy with his performance, but not with ISU’s rebounding. ISU had just three offensive rebounds — all in the second half — and were frequently out of position.
“It’s definitely frustrating because the defensive rebounding war is crucial. It’s disappointing, but we need to continue to get better at it. I think we are,” Gant said.
The Sycamores shot well in the first half — 63.2 percent — but too often shot themselves in the foot too. The Sycamores had nine first-half turnovers and were outrebounded 17-11 before the break. Winthrop had 28 field goal attempts in the first half to ISU’s 19.
It seemed ISU’s mistakes would outweigh the good as Winthrop led 25-22 with 3:30 left in the half. ISU fought back to tie the game twice thanks to dribble-penetration by Cummings and Odum, but Winthrop led 30-29 with 1:34 to go.
The break ISU got before halftime was thanks in part to loss of composure from the Eagles. After Gant converted a hook to put ISU up 31-30 at 1:16, Winthrop’s Christian Farmer elbowed Odum in the head as Farmer tried to give himself space to move.
Officials deemed the elbow to be a flagrant one foul. Odum made both free throws and converted a layup on the ensuing possession to put ISU up 35-30.
A Devonte Brown free throw with 4.5 seconds left after a Derrick Henry leg-whip capped a strange half-ending 7-0 run by the Sycamores.
Winthrop (1-1) never recovered from its last first-half slump. The Eagles would briefly cut its deficit to three, but Winthrop followed with a stretch of 11 empty trips out of 13 possessions. ISU’s lead peaked at 14 and Winthrop was only able to take its deficit below double-digits once from there.
ISU made spectacular stops at times. Khristian Smith had the most emphatic of ISU’s nine blocks as he swatted a Winthrop attempt into the stands. Even Lucas Eitel joined the act with a second-half baseline rejection.
Most encouraging was that despite ISU’s rebounding troubles, it never affected the Sycamores’ defense.
“That shows the character of a good team. When things like that happen, you don’t quit. They had more offensive rebounds than defensive, that’s not good, but we didn’t break down,” Odum said. “When they got those rebounds, we had to guard for another 35. It’s harder to do that, but we accepted it and fought through it.”
No Sycamore played more than 30 minutes. Lansing thinks the Sycamores’ rotation is a work-in-progress.
“Our minutes were split up pretty good tonight. We need to continue to do that. But as far as a rotation? I’m not sure yet. There’s a lot of basketball yet to be played and a lot of practices between games,” Lansing said.
ISU next plays host to Division II Truman State at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
WINTHROP (55) — Bourne 2-3 0-1 4, L. Brown 2-4 0-1 4, Gamble 3-7 2-2 9, A. Smith 3-10 2-2 11, Henry 5-14 5-5 15, Jerome 1-8 0-1 2, Diop 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 2-8 1-2 7, Farmer 1-5 0-0 3. 19-59 FG, 10-14 FT, 55 TP.
INDIANA STATE (66) — Arop 2-5 0-2 4, Gant 6-8 1-1 14, Kitchell 0-2 0-0 0, Cummings 3-5 3-3 11, Odum 3-5 9-10 15, Eitel 1-3 0-0 3, D. Brown 1-1 3-6 5, R. Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Mahurin 3-4 3-5 10, K. Smith 2-4 0-0 4. 21-37 FG, 19-27 FT, 66 TP.
Halftime score — ISU 36-30. 3-point goals — Winthrop 7-26 (A. Smith 3-7, Johnson 2-4, Farmer 1-5, Gamble 1-4, Henry 0-3, Jerome 0-3), ISU 5-13 (Cummings 2-4, Eitel 1-3, Mahurin 1-2, Gant 1-1, K. Smith 0-1). Rebounds — Winthrop 34 (L. Brown 7, Henry 6, Jerome 5, Johnson 5, Team 5, A. Smith 3, Bourne 2, Gamble), ISU 28 (Arop 5, Cummings 5, K. Smith 5, Mahurin 4, Gant 3, Kitchell 2, D. Brown 2, Odum, Team), Assists — Winthrop 6 (A. Smith 3, Jerome 2, Gamble), ISU 9 (Odum 4, Mahurin 2, K. Smith 2, Eitel), Steals — Winthrop 7 (Gamble 2, A. Smith 2, L. Brown, Henry, Jerome), ISU 4 (Odum 2, Cummings, K. Smith), Blocks — Winthrop 0, ISU 7 (Gant 2, Kitchell, Odum, Eitel, Mahurin, K. Smith), Turnovers — Winthrop 12 (Henry 3, Farmer 3), ISU 15 (Odum 4, Arop 4, D. Brown 3, Cummings 2, Gant, Eitel), Total fouls — Winthrop 22, ISU 14. Fouled out — L. Brown. Technical foul — Farmer.. A — 4,916.
Next — ISU (1-1) plays host to Truman State and Winthrop (1-1) plays host to VCU on Saturday.