TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State men’s basketball coach Greg Lansing did the rarest of things for a head coach entering Sunday’s Missouri Valley Conference opener against Illinois State.
He gave the Sycamores an excuse. The Sycamores decided to leave it on the table.
Weary after a three-day odyssey on the return trip from last week’s Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, the Sycamores conjured up the energy to knock off Illinois State 77-75 in front of 5,808 at Hulman Center.
“We had rough travel and expended a lot of energy and effort in our games in Honolulu. I told the guys I’d give them one excuse; that’s their one for the year. It was a gutsy effort to hang on and pull it out,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
Not only did the Sycamores muster the energy, they often exceeded the Redbirds’ own output, despite the fact that Illinois State had eight days off prior to the game.
ISU (8-4, 1-0) outrebounded Illinois State 46-36 and shot six percentage points better than the Redbirds. Not bad for a team that went coast-to-coast, and then some, on its way back from Honolulu.
“I don’t know if the rest of the team realizes this, because most of them haven’t played a conference game, but starting 1-0 against the team picked second [in the MVC] is huge. We didn’t want to have a slip-up after the Hawaii tournament and lose at home. It’s a big one,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said.
ISU’s spark came from Justin Gant and Devonte Brown. Gant had his second career double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Gant – who is playing with a broken front tooth suffered in ISU’s final game in Hawaii – was particularly aggressive in the first half when he had 13 points and eight rebounds.
“Coach told us we were going to have to be aggressive in transition and push. We were running out and point guards like Devonte and Odum were looking for me. I got in the right spot for the right shots,” Gant said.
Brown had his second strong game in a row for the Sycamores. He scored 12 points and had seven rebounds. He went to the line 12 times, though he only made six of them.
“I’m just trying to be a spark. Coming off the bench, I have to give a start to something. Anything I can do to scrap and give us something offensively and defensively, that’s what I have to do,” Brown said.
Odum contributed 17 points and six assists. Manny Arop had 10 points. Jon Ekey led Illinois State (9-4, 0-1) with 16 points. Talented big man Jackie Carmichael had 13 points and 14 rebounds, though he only converted 4 of 15 from the field.
Despite the fact that the Sycamores controlled most of the game, they still had to hang on for dear life at the end.
ISU led by 11 with 3:41 left and 75-67 with 1:43 left. The Sycamores seemed well on their way to victory, but one slip up – ISU missed five of its last nine free throw attempts – nearly allowed the Redbirds to steal a victory.
Zeke Upshaw, who had averaged 5.4 minutes per game for the Redbirds, came to Illinois State’s rescue. He hit consecutive 3-pointers to make it 73-70 with 33 seconds left.
The Sycamores’ heart continued to jump out of their chest as they couldn’t put the Redbirds away at the line. Arop made one of two with 29.9 ticks left and Bryant Allen converted a layup with 17 seconds left to make it 76-75.
Gant was fouled with 6.6 seconds left, but he too could only make one of two at the line. ISU led 77-75, but the Redbirds had a chance to win it.
They nearly did. Freshman guard Nick Zeisloft let fly from nearly 30 feet with 3 seconds left and his shot was just barely short. ISU rebounded the miss and breathed a sigh of relief.
“A loss would’ve been crushing. It would’ve sucked the wind out of you, but it didn’t happen. We have to learn from it, hit our free throws and keep attacking the rim,” Odum said.
Until the final Illinois State surge, the Sycamores had more or less enjoyed a comfortable margin for most of the contest.
Illinois State led 13-11, but ISU pounded the ball inside – Carmichael had picked up his second foul – to build a gap. Arop converted a traditional three-point play and banked in an off-balance jumper to make it 16-13.
Then Gant took over.
The sophomore scored three consecutive buckets to help fuel an 11-0 ISU run that put the Sycamores in front 22-13. All points were scored in the paint, including a no-look reverse layup.
Illinois State rallied to tie it at 27 with 4:38 left in the half. But the Redbirds would not score again before halftime. ISU’s defense clamped down and the Redbirds couldn’t convert their jumpers. ISU finished the half on a 7-0 run to take a 34-27 halftime lead. Illinois State failed to score on its last eight first half possessions.
ISU built on the momentum in the second half. Though the ISU lead never exceeded 11, the Redbirds – who shot 37.l percent from the field – could never get a foothold and could not cut its margin to less than five in the first 18 minutes of the second half.
Illinois State pressed for much of the second half, and its trapping did give ISU some trouble, the Sycamores took advantage of the opening driving lanes to get easy buckets in the paint.
Leading by 11 with 3:41 left, ISU slowed down its offense and worked the clock. ISU did not convert a field goal in the final 3:41 of the contest.
Illinois State punched back, but couldn’t land a knockout blow.
“Penetration hurt us. Sometimes it’s about guarding the ball, which leads to rebounding. We’re not locked in as a group, and when that happens, and the other team becomes the aggressor, they certainly killed us on the boards,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said.
The win over Illinois State was vital for ISU as its next two games are on the road. ISU plays at Northern Iowa on Wednesday and at Creighton on Saturday.
ILLINOIS STATE (75) – Ekey 4-8 6-8 16, Carmichael 4-15 5-8 13, T. Brown 3-12 2-2 11, Allen 4-9 0-0 9, Hill 2-4 4-4 9, Keane 0-2 0-0 0, Wilkins 0-1 0-0 0, Zeisloft 3-5 0-0 8, Upshaw 3-6 0-1 9, Threloff 0-0 0-0 0. 23-62 FG, 17-23 FT, 75 TP.
INDIANA STATE (77) – Mahurin 2-5 4-5 8, Gant 8-13 1-2 18, Arop 4-11 2-3 10, Cummings 1-8 1-1 3, Odum 4-5 7-8 17, Kitchell 2-4 0-0 4, Eitel 1-3 0-0 3, D. Brown 3-5 6-12 12, Burnett 0-0 0-0 0, K. Smith 1-6 0-0 2. 26-60 FG, 21-31 FT, 77 TP.
Halftime score – ISU 34-27. 3-point goals – ILS 12-29 (T. Brown 3-9, Upshaw 3-5, Ekey 2-5, Zeisloft 2-3, Allen 1-5, Hill 1-1, Carmichael 0-1), ISU 4-11 (Odum 2-2, Gant 1-2, Eitel 1-2, Arop 0-2, Cummings 0-2, Mahurin 0-1). Rebounds – ILS 36 (Carmichael 14, Ekey 6, T. Brown 3, Hill 3, Keane 3, Allen 2, Wilkins, Zeisloft, Upshaw, Threloff, Team), ISU 46 (Gant 11, D. Brown 7, Odum 5, Mahurin 4, Arop 4, Kitchell 4, K. Smith 4, Cummings 3, Eitel 3, Team), Assists – ILS 16 (Allen 5, Ekey 4, T. Brown 3, Hill 2, Carmichael, Zeisfloft), ISU 15 (Odum 6, K. Smith 3, D. Brown 2, Mahurin, Gant, Kitchell, Eitel), Steals – ILS 8 (Hill 3, Carmichael 2, T. Brown 2, Upshaw), ISU 5 (Odum 3, Cummings, D. Brown), Blocks – ILS 5 (Ekey 2, Carmichael 2, T. Brown), ISU 2 (Gant, Arop), Turnovers – ILS 11 (Ekey 3, Hill 3, Carmichael 2, T. Brown, Keane, Wilkins), ISU 12 (Odum 4, Gant 2, Arop 2, Cummings 2, D. Brown 2), Total fouls – ILS 22, ISU 17. Fouled out – T. Brown, Hill. A – 5808.
Next – ISU (8-4, 1-0) plays at Northern Iowa and Illinois State (9-4, 0-1) plays host to Creighton on Wednesday.