ST. LOUIS —
Indiana State forward Manny Arop sat out two games as part of a suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules, but the time he had to wait to get back into action seemed to be an eternity.
That wait ended on Saturday as Arop played 21 miuntes in ISU’s 51-50 victory over Evansville in a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinal game.
Arop started the contest for the Sycamores. He got into quick foul trouble and wasn’t a factor offensively as he scored just four points.
Arop was a bigger help defensively as he played a large role in the Sycamores’ defense of Evansville’s Colt Ryan. Arop guarded Ryan one-on-one at times and helped hold the Evansville senior scoreless in the second half.
Mostly though, Arop was just glad to be back and wanted to put the suspension behind him. Arop did not reveal why he was suspended, but revealed his disappointment that he put himself and the team in a bad spot.
“It was difficult [to sit out]. I felt like I let my teammates down and I just wanted to be out there with them. I wasn’t able to so I did what I could off the court, whether it was energy in practice and games. I’m glad I’m back,” Arop said.
ISU coach Greg Lansing decided to start Arop. Lansing had considered bringing Arop off the bench, but he figured Arop’s contributions this season have been more positive than negative.
“Kids make mistakes. He served the punishment. The rest of the team served the punishment. He was a little anxious, maybe I shouldn’t have started him,” Lansing said.
“Manny’s been part of our success all year and he’s going to learn from this. He’s earned the right with the teammate he’s been — other than this little misstep. We’re moving forward,” he added.
Arop wasn’t happy with his shooting performance — he was 1 of 6 from the field — but was pleased to contribute in whatever way he could.
“It felt great to be back playing. The offense wasn’t there today, but we’re such a versatile team, and we have guys who can score in a lot of different ways. I’m not too worried about my offense. I’ll continue to defend and rebound and my offense will come in time,” Arop said.
I I I
n The play before the play — Devonte Brown’s last-second block of a Ned Cox shot to preserve ISU’s victory overshadowed the play that got ISU in front to begin with.
Evansville’s Troy Taylor missed a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left to keep the game tied and gave ISU a chance at the last shot of the game.
It didn’t come to that. Jake Odum drove baseline on the right side and found Justin Gant in the lane near the free throw line. Gant drove to the basket and was fouled by Evansville center Egidijus Mockevicius. Gant stepped to the line with 2.5 seconds left and made the second shot to put ISU in front.
“They were jumping our inside ball screens and not letting us come back middle. We wanted Justin to slip, just like he did, and I wanted Jake to drive baseline hard, just like he did, and for Jake to make the right play and get it to a teammate,” Lansing explained. “Justin didn’t settle for an open shot, he got to the rim and to the foul line. All of the guys executed it perfectly.”
n Creighton is next — Perhaps ISU’s best performance of this season — or any recent season — was its 76-57 dismantling of Creighton at Hulman Center on Feb. 6.
It was great for ISU at the time. But with No. 1-seeded Creighton looming in a rematch at 2:35 p.m. today, Lansing wasn’t so thrilled at the prospect of a rematch.
“I enjoyed that when it happened. I’m not happy about it right now because I think if I was them, I’d want a piece of us after that,” Lansing said. “We played well, we played as well as we played all year, but that’s one of the better teams in the country with one of the top players in the country.”
ISU held Creighton All-American Doug McDermott to eight points in the Feb. 6 matchup. What might be of equal concern is Creighton center Gregory Echenique.
Echenique dominated Drake at times during Creighton’s 65-53 victory in the Bluejays’ quarterfinal victory. The senior big man had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
It was a similar performance to when ISU lost 79-66 at Creighton on Jan. 5. Echenique scored 16 points and had nine rebounds.