TERRE HAUTE —
The intricacies of help defense aren’t going to show up on any highlight shows.
But far as Indiana State’s men’s basketball team is concerned, help defense is as pretty as any breakaway dunk or a crowd-pleasing blocked shot.
Help defense is one of the factors that have helped ISU exceed expectations to find itself among the Missouri Valley Conference’s early contenders. It played a big role again Wednesday as ISU defeated Bradley 68-53 in Hulman Center.
“That was our bread-and-butter when we went to the NCAA Tournament. To get it back, we have to trust each other on the defensive end. We help the helper and as we’ve become more experienced, we’ve become better at it,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said.
Justin Gant and Odum led ISU (10-5, 3-1) with 13 points apiece. Walt Lemon Jr. led all scorers with 15 for Bradley.
Bradley, a team that likes to drive the lane, was able to do what it wanted to do to create shots. But once inside the paint, ISU’s help defense saw to it that creating shots and converting shots were much different propositions.
Bradley made just 31.8 percent of its shots. Though the Braves scored 32 in the paint, ISU also had nine blocks with four different Sycamores having at least one swat.
“We’re not a great individual defensive team. We rely on help. We work on shell defense everyday. We try to work on the other team’s strengths. We try to guard in ways other teams are going to play. We stressed it today. We called it ‘no paint’ defense,” Lansing said.
Bradley coach Geno Ford saw it much the same way. Ford was impressed with ISU’s commitment to help defense, a concept that can be difficult to drill into a team.
“We had 58 shots in the lane … and we missed 40 of them,” Ford said. “They lack for some foot speed and they know that, so they really over-pursue help, which is great. When you get it in there against them, you have a lot of bodies in there. It’s not one-on-one, it’s one-on-three.”
“They have great team defense. If they didn’t help, they’d give up more layups than any team in history. It shows what a good job [Lansing] has done with that crew,” Ford added.
On the other side of the floor, ISU shared the ball well. Though the Sycamores had just 12 assists against 14 turnovers, no Sycamore had more than eight field goal attempts. ISU shot 50 percent from the field and also converted 22 of 26 free throws.
“It was a good team win. No one took more than eight shots. You hardly ever have that. It was a fundamental game. What did what we had to do on the defensive end and we worked the ball on the offensive end. We grinded it out and made them work and it was successful for us,” Odum said.
It was a workmanlike effort from the Sycamores. That lunch pail mentality has served the Sycamores well as they improved to 3-1 in the MVC. Along with surprising Missouri State, ISU is in third place in the MVC.
“It’s part of the maturation process of our team. We’ve had our feet in the fire in a lot of close games against a lot of good teams. We’re finding ways to win them. It’s good to start 3-1, that’s for sure,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
ISU led 9-4 in the early going and only briefly trailed for the game’s duration. As has been typical of ISU’s contests, however, the Sycamores maintained a gap, but only gradually built it.
Bradley’s only lead – a 23-22 advantage – came with 4:46 left in the first half on a Jake Eastman layup. ISU scored just three buckets in the final nine minutes of the first half, but two of them were scored in the run-up to halftime and the Sycamores had a 28-25 halftime lead.
A strong start to the second half gave ISU enough cushion to hold the Braves off the rest of the way. ISU built its lead to 41-31 by the 14:35 mark.
A bright spot scoring-wise for the Sycamores was Khristian Smith. Mired in a scoring slump, Smith made 3 of 6 from the field for eight points, his best shooting effort in seven games.
Bradley (10-6, 2-2) threatened briefly with a 10-3 run midway through the second half to cut ISU’s lead to 48-45, but ISU responded with an 11-1 run to put the Braves away.
Bradley converted just 29 percent of its second half shots.
“You have to have patience on the defensive end. You have to have discipline. We were undisciplined at times, but we did a good job,” Lansing said.
ISU hits the road again at 8 p.m. Saturday as it travels to Southern Illinois. The Salukis pushed Wichita State at Koch Arena on Wednesday, but fell to the Shockers 82-76.
VIDEO: Jake Kitchell, Jake Odum, Justin Gant press conference
VIDEO: Greg Lansing press conference
BRADLEY (53) – Pickett 3-12 1-2 7, Prosser 4-8 0-0 8, Eastman 2-7 0-0 5, Lemon Jr. 5-13 5-6 15, Simms-Edwards 4-13 0-0 9, Bell 0-2 1-2 1, Crawford 2-5 1-1 6, Alwan 0-0 0-0 0, Knezevic 0-0 0-0 0, Shayok 1-4 0-2 2, Gavin 0-1 0-0 0, Wells 0-0 0-0 0. 21-66 FG, 8-13 FT, 53 TP.
INDIANA STATE (68) – Arop 4-7 5-6 13, Mahurin 3-7 2-2 8, Gant 4-8 4-4 13, Brown 0-1 3-4 3, Odum 4-6 2-2 11, Kitchell 4-4 0-0 8, Eitel 0-2 0-0 0, Cummings 0-2 2-4 2, R. Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Burnett 0-0 2-2 2, K. Smith 3-6 2-2 8. 22-44 FG, 22-26 FT, 68 TP.
Halftime score – ISU 28-25. 3-point goals – BU 3-8 (Simms-Edwards 1-3, Eastman 1-1, Crawford 1-1, Lemon Jr. 0-1, Bell 0-1, Gavin 0-1), ISU 2-10 (Gant 1-2, Odum 1-1, Mahurin 0-3, Arop 0-2, Eitel 0-1, Cummings 0-1). Rebounds – BU 34 (Eastman 8, Pickett 7, Prosser 5, Team 5, Lemon Jr. 4, Simms-Edwards 2, Crawford, Knezevic, Shayok), ISU 38 (Mahurin 6, Cummings 6, Gant 5, Arop 4, Odum 4, Kitchell 4, Team 3, Burnett 2, K. Smith 2, Brown, Eitel), Assists – BU 7 (Lemon Jr. 3, Eastman 2, Pickett, Simms-Edwards), ISU 12 (Brown 3, Odum 3, Cummings 3, Arop 2, Gant), Steals – BU 12 (Simms-Edwards 5, Lemon Jr. 4, Eastman 2), ISU 4 (Arop, Brown, Odum, Cummings), Blocks – BU 1 (Simms-Edwards), ISU 9 (Gant 3, Mahurin 2, K. Smith 2, Odum, Eitel), Turnovers – BU 8 (Lemon Jr. 3, Simms-Edwards 2, Pickett, Prosser, Shayok), ISU 14 (Gant 6, Arop 2, Mahurin, Brown, Odum, Kitchell, Eitel, K. Smith), Total fouls – BU 19, ISU 15. Technical foul – Arop. A – 5553.
Next – ISU (10-5, 3-1) plays at Southern Illinois and Bradley (10-6, 2-2) plays at Northern Iowa on Saturday.