SPRINGFIELD, Mo. —
You know what’s one of the best tests of how a player has gained respect? Listen to the way the road crowd reacts when that player has the ball in his hands.
When Indiana State guard Jake Odum had the ball in his hands against Missouri State on Saturday, the usual dull murmur you hear from the JQH Arena crowd became much more focused.
You heard “wows!” when Odum sliced through the paint and repeatedly and acrobatically kicked it to a teammate for one of his five assists.
It ranged from there to the frantic and nerve calls for the Bears to “defend him!” when ISU had the ball.
Odum was electric against the Bears on Saturday. He had a team-high 18 points to go with his five assists. He also had five rebounds.
In a game where the Bears put four seniors in the game at a time, redshirt freshman Odum was often the most dominant player on the floor and was definitely the most entertaining.
All of that made Odum’s fate in the final minute of the game that much crueler.
With 28 seconds left, ISU had just made a defensive stop on the Bears and had a chance to tie the game or take the lead.
Normally, a team would hold for the last shot with the shot clock off, but Odum got the ball on the right wing and Missouri State’s defense left a gaping lane open on the right side.
Odum saw the hole immediately and instinctively went to the basket. MSU’s help was late to react and Odum had a clear path to the bucket.
But Odum didn’t take the shot. Instead he tried to dish the ball to Carl Richard, who was getting in position for what he thought was going to be a rebound on an Odum shot. Richard couldn’t haul in the Odum pass and MSU’s Adam Leonard stole it.
“I was either going to do a drive-and-kick to the corner or finish at the rim. They came off the help side, so I tried to scoop it to Carl. It wasn’t completed, but I was just trying to make a play. Its nobody’s fault, it just didn’t happen,” Odum said.
Leonard eventually kicked it out to Jermaine Mallett, who was intentionally fouled, and who made a pair of free throws to give MSU a crucial four-point lead. ISU never got another chance to tie the game.
Hindsight being 20/20, Odum should have taken the shot on the drive. ISU coach Greg Lansing acknowledged as much in the postgame press conference.
“I know he’s done [that pass] a few times, but he’s got a layup with 20 seconds to go and throws a tough bounce-pass to Carl,” Lansing said. “I wish he’d have shot the layup, but I’m never going to get mad at someone for making the extra pass. If Carl catches it — it would’ve been a tough catch — we’re not even talking about that play.”
Lansing was also quick to point out that Odum’s unselfishness does a heckuva lot more good than the one time it didn’t work out for the Sycamores.
“You can never say too much about someone trying to be unselfish. He’s as unselfish and tough as it gets,” Lansing said. “He’s the leader of this team and he wants to win. Our guys ride him and he makes a lot of game-winning plays.”
Without Odum’s excellence throughout the game, ISU isn’t even in a position to have that play to begin with. Richard, who played despite having the flu, brushed off the idea that Odum made a mistake on the play and took the blame himself.
“I thought it was going up on the rim, I was sprinting down to try and get it off of the rim and as soon as I looked up, I see the ball coming down,” Richard said. “I just read it wrong. I’ll take [the blame] for that one.”
Leonard, who made the steal, admitted that it’s so hard to discern what Odum might do on any one play, that his steal had more to do with being in the right place at the right time rather than any defensive prescience on his part.
“It’s tough. Every time he drives, it seems like we collapse and he hits the shooters. That’s what he’s been doing all season, that’s what we’ve seen on film,” Leonard said. “He made a pass to the big guy, [Richard] kind of fumbled it and I was able to make the steal. It’s tough to guard [Odum]. He’s just a freshman and he’s going to be a really good player.”
Odum himself didn’t feel his turnover cost the Sycamores a chance to win ... and he’s right. It was one play among many the Sycamores could have made in the final four minutes that didn’t go their way.
“They didn’t win the game off that one play. We had too many turnovers in the second half, we had 10. It’s a play that would’ve helped us, like many other in the game, but we’re not going to worry about that one play. Later on in the season, we’re going to make that play and we’re going to get wins,” Odum said.
Odum has been playing at an All-MVC level for the Sycamores all season long. It’s easy to forget that he’s a redshirt freshman out there doing it because Odum rarely makes redshirt freshman-like decisions.
And while Odum’s decision to kick it to Richard didn’t work out for the Sycamores, it in no way defined the day for Odum.
He was excellent. The JQH Arena crowd knew it. Missouri State knew it. And most importantly, ISU’s coaching staff and Odum’s teammates know it too.
It’s fun to think of how good ISU can be in the next three-plus years with Odum at the helm. One play in one game won’t change that.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.