TERRE HAUTE — The realistic hope for Indiana State’s men’s basketball team going into its game against No. 16 Creighton was to get a win – by whatever method or whatever margin necessary – and get itself back into the Missouri Valley Conference race.
It was clear not too long after halftime that the Sycamores had vastly surpassed realistic expectations and had broken into the realm of fantasy.
Only it wasn’t a fantasy. The Sycamores imposed their will on the Bluejays in a sublime 76-57 victory in front of 8,345 delirious fans at Hulman Center in one of the best Sycamore performances in recent memory.
“I’d like to frame that one. I don’t know if we can play any better. We played awfully well at both ends of the floor, especially defensively. They didn’t play well, but we had a lot to do with it,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
Jake Odum led ISU with 22 points and set the Sycamores’ aggressive tone from tipoff. R.J. Mahurin had 17 points and Manny Arop added 13.
The mark of ISU’s performance wasn’t just in who scored, but who didn’t. The Sycamores worked magic on both ends of the floor, but the alchemy began with their defense, which completely sapped the energy out of the Bluejays.
Creighton – which leads the nation in field goal percentage and averages 79 points per game – was completely stymied. It's previous low point total this season was 64.
None of the Bluejays starters reached double-figure scoring. All-American Doug McDermott was held to eight points – his second-lowest output of the season and worst in a MVC game by a six-point margin.
McDermott didn't score at all in the second half.
Gregory Echenique, who scored 16 in Creighton’s 79-66 win on Jan. 6, was also held to eight points.
“It’s exciting to execute a gameplan almost to a tee. Creighton is one of the best offensive teams in the nation. To be able to control the tempo on that end of the floor was good for us,” Odum said.
Reserve center Will Artino led Creighton with 13 points.
“They were, by far, the superior team tonight. We haven’t had this happen to us in a couple of years. Not sure why it happened tonight, but I think Indiana State had an awful lot to do with it. They executed their defensive plan to perfection,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
From the start, the game was played at ISU’s pace. For much of the half it was a foul-laden stalemate – both teams were in the bonus by the nine-minute mark – dictated by the Sycamores’ defense and foul trouble for both teams, in particular, both team’s guards.
The X-factor for ISU, as ever, was Odum. The junior showed resolve from tipoff to go to the basket and had 16 first-half points. Much of Creighton’s foul trouble was attributable to Odum who went to the line nine times in the opening 20 minutes alone.
“They guarded the ball screens a bit different than the first time we’ve played him. They didn’t want Manny to get the ball. They were denying him. It opened up the gaps for me,” Odum said. “R.J. and Justin [Gant] did a shake action on our ball screens where they go to one side and screen on the other. It threw Echenique off when he went to hedge the ball screens.”
As defensive as the first half was, ISU turned the temperature up with just over six minutes to go. Leading 19-18, ISU built its gap with a Lucas Eitel 3-pointer.
The Sycamores (15-8, 8-4) then forced turnovers on consecutive possessions. An Odum steal led to a Khristian Smith bucket and an offensive foul by McDermott gave Arop the chance to drain a 15-footer to put ISU up 26-18.
The Sycamores had chances to build the gap – Creighton made three field goals in the last six minutes of the half – and did so with 35 seconds left when Arop drained a 3-pointer to give ISU a 35-24 lead it would maintain at halftime.
A key stat for ISU? The Sycamores had zero turnovers at halftime.
An 11-point deficit provided no comfort for ISU against the high-flying Bluejays if it couldn’t back it up in the second half. The Sycamores did.
The key play occurred on ISU’s second possession. Mahurin drained a 3-point shot from the left side and was fouled by Echenique. Mahurin converted his fifth career 4-point play to put ISU up 39-24.
“Coach probably thinks I fall down too many times shooting those three’s, I hear it all of the time, but every once in a while, they do get me the call. I just try to keep the follow-through up and hit the free throw,” said Mahurin, who insisted there was contact “on that one”.
The four-point play kick-started a 13-2 run that essentially settled the game. ISU was never threatened as the Bluejays (20-4, 9-3) scored just nine points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. ISU’s lead peaked at 28 with 4:36 to go.
ISU shot 58.3 percent in the second half. Among the points scored was Odum's 1,000th career point, which came on a free throw.
There was no outburst of joy after the game. The students didn’t storm the court. It reflected the calm and the confidence the Sycamores have built over the course of the season.
“We know we can compete with anybody. We’ve shown it. Creighton’s a really good team, but we believed we could beat them. We know if we execute our game plan from the coaching staff, we can beat everybody. I think that’s where our calmness comes from,” Odum said.
ISU, which is tied for second place with Wichita State, is just a game behind Creighton for the MVC lead. The Sycamores next host Southern Illinois at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
CREIGHTON (57) – McDermott 3-10 0-0 8, Echenique 3-7 2-2 8, Chatman 1-4 2-4 5, Gibbs 3-8 2-2 8, Manigat 0-3 0-0 0, Stormberg 0-0 0-0 0, Yates 1-3 3-5 5, Dingman 1-3 0-0 2, Groselle 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 3-5 0-0 8, Artino 5-5 3-5 13, Wragge 0-0 0-0 0, Olsen 0-0 0-0 0. 20-48 FG, 12-18 FT, 57 TP.
INDIANA STATE (76) – Gant 0-5 1-2 1, Mahurin 6-9 2-3 17, Arop 3-7 6-8 13, Brown 1-2 0-0 2, Odum 7-10 8-11 22, Kitchell 0-1 0-1 0, Eitel 2-5 0-0 6, Cummings 2-5 0-0 6, R. Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Burnett 1-2 0-0 2, K. Smith 3-6 0-0 7. 25-52 FG, 19-27 FT, 76 TP.
Halftime score – ISU 35-24. 3-point goals – CU 5-18 (McDermott 2-5, Johnson 2-2, Chatman 1-2, Gibbs 0-3, Manigat 0-3, Dingman 0-2, Yates 0-1), ISU 7-17 (Mahurin 3-4, Eitel 2-5, Arop 1-2, K. Smith 1-1, Cummings 0-2, Gant 0-1, Kitchell 0-1, Burnett 0-1). Rebounds – CU 30 (Echenique 7, McDermott 6, Gibbs 5, Chatman 3, Yates 2, Artino 2, Manigat, Dingman, Johnson, Wragge, Team), ISU 32 (Arop 7, Team 6, Odum 4, Cummings 4, Gant 3, Mahurin 2, Brown, Eitel, Burnett, K. Smith), Assists – CU 10 (Gibbs 6, Chatman, Stormberg, Yates, Johnson), ISU 14 (Odum 5, Gant 2, Brown 2, Cummings 2, Arop, Eitel, K. Smith), Steals – CU 2 (Dingman, Artino), ISU 8 (Odum 2, Gant, Mahurin, Arop, Kitchell, Cummings, K. Smith), Blocks – CU 1 (Echenique), ISU 3 (Gant, Kitchell, K. Smith), Turnovers – CU 13 (Gibbs 4, McDermott 3, Chatman, Manigat, Yates, Johnson, Artino, Wragge), ISU 5 (Arop 2, Brown, Odum, Team), Total fouls – CU 25, ISU 16. A – 8,345.
Next – ISU (15-8, 8-4) plays host to Southern Illinois and Creighton (20-4, 9-3) plays host to Illinois State on Saturday.