TERRE HAUTE —
Try as it might, Indiana State’s men’s basketball team could never take command against Drake on Sunday at Hulman Center.
But try as they might, the Bulldogs could never take advantage.
ISU played just well enough to keep the Bulldogs’ at arm’s length, but not good enough to stretch their legs and relax. The Sycamores survived a late Drake threat and held on for a 60-56 victory.
ISU’s reward was its 18th win of the season. For the first time in school history, the Sycamores have had four-straight 18-win campaigns.
ISU went about its business in a strange game that saw Drake push a boulder up a hill in an effort to get past a cold-shooting ISU team, only to see it repeatedly roll back down due in equal measure to ISU spurts and Drake mistakes.
For ISU, its performance was a mixed bag. Its 2 of 18 3-point shooting was the only thing that definitely stood out as good or bad. Its offense seemed to operate as intended … only to have shots fail to find the mark.
Its defense was good — even excellent at times as it forced three Drake shot clock violations — until it suddenly wasn’t. Drake got to the basket almost at will late, and it nearly proved costly.
In the end, the ISU victory can be filed under survive-and-advance. That’s what the Sycamores (18-6, 9-3) did as they maintained their three-game lead over a quartet of 6-6 teams in the middle of the Missouri Valley Conference pack.
“We know Wichita has the target on their back, and so do we being in second place. We know it’s going to be a dogfight every game,” ISU center Jake Kitchell said.
Khristian Smith led ISU with 19 points off the bench. Manny Arop added 13. Jake Odum had six assists and Kitchell had four blocked shots, all of the rejections coming in the first half.
“We had to bring our own energy. There was a little bit of a hangover [from ISU’s loss to Wichita State on Wednesday], and we were kind of down, but it shows our toughness to get this game out of the way and get a win,” Smith said.
Two things ISU did defensively helped carry the day. One was its ability to get timely turnovers and blocked shots to stop Drake momentum. Drake had just 12 turnovers, but they came at inopportune times, and ISU scored 15 points off of them.
ISU blocked seven shots, keeping Drake from getting comfortable inside. The biggest blocked shot came with 1:16 left when Dawon Cummings swatted a shot by Richard Carter and it led to a Smith traditional three-point play with 1:12 left to make it 59-54.
ISU’s defense on Carter was stout for most of the contest. He scored 29 in ISU’s 77-73 win at Drake on Jan. 8, but scored only 10 points and took just seven shots.
“We did a really good job on him. With a head of steam, he’s difficult to keep in front and we didn’t want to help too much on him because of their 3-point shooters,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
The first half was a topsy-turvy series of runs. ISU led 9-3 early, only to have Drake’s 10-0 run put the Bulldogs up 13-9. ISU answered with an 11-1 run to take a 20-14 lead. ISU would lead the rest of the contest, but never comfortably. A 28-19 lead with 3:48 left in the first half was just a two-point advantage by halftime as ISU’s shots were off.
It was more of the same in the second half. ISU led by eight for minutes, only to see the lead drop to three, only to go on a 9-2 run to make it 43-33.
The pattern never abated. Part of ISU’s issue was its poor 3-point shooting. The Sycamores kept shooting beyond the point it was clear no one was destined to heat up from long-range.
Had the Sycamores lacked the recognition needed to realize that shots weren’t falling? Perhaps, but Lansing put the onus on himself too.
“We didn’t shoot very well, and the head coach isn’t really smart because he kept calling sets for 3-point shots,” Lansing said. “I can’t think of a bad three at all. Maybe a couple were quick. We’re a better shooting team than that.”
ISU led 54-46 with 4:38 left when Drake (12-12, 3-9) made its final push. A pair of 3-pointers by Carter and Aaron Hawley quickly cut ISU’s lead to two. It remained a two-point advantage until Cummings’ block and Smith’s three-point play made it 56-52.
But ISU wasn’t out of the woods. Karl Madison’s layup with 56 seconds left made it 59-56 and a wild miss by Odum with 23 seconds left gave Drake a chance to tie the game.
It wasn’t to be. Hawley’s well-guarded 3-point miss with three seconds left was off the mark and Smith clinched the ISU win at the free throw line with 2.9 left.
ISU next travels to Bradley on Wednesday. The Braves (11-14, 6-6) dumped Evansville 83-66 on Sunday in Peoria, Ill. ISU has lost its last two games at Carver Arena.
DRAKE (56) — Berkeley 4-6 1-1 12, Caird 2-4 2-2 7, VanDeest 2-4 1-2 5, Carter 3-7 3-4 10, Hawley 4-10 0-0 11, Madison 1-5 1-2 3, Danielak 0-1 0-0 0, Enevold 1-2 1-2 3, Daniels 1-4 0-0 2, Ugbede 1-1 1-2 3. 19-44 FG, 10-15 FT, 56 TP.
INDIANA STATE (60) — Gant 1-5 4-5 6, Kitchell 1-2 1-3 3, Arop 5-13 2-2 13, Cummings 3-7 0-0 6, Odum 2-3 0-0 4, Eitel 0-2 0-0 0, Brown 1-3 2-2 4, Moore 0-1 2-2 2, Burnett 1-2 1-1 3, Smith 6-11 6-9 19. 20-49 FG, 18-24 FT, 60 TP.
Halftime score — ISU 28-26. 3-point goals — DU 8-17 (Hawley 3-7, Berkeley 3-5, Caird 1-2, Carter 1-2, Daniels 0-1), ISU 2-18 (Arop 1-6, Smith 1-4, Cummings 0-3, Eitel 0-2, Gant 0-1, Brown 0-1, Burnett 0-1). Rebounds — DU 27 (Enevold 6, Hawley 5, Berkeley 4, VanDeest 4, Caird 3, Ugbede 3, Carter, Daniels), ISU 34 (Kitchell 5, Gant 4, Arop 4, Smith 4, Cummings 4, Odum 3, Brown 3, Moore 3, Team 3, Eitel). Assists — DU 11 (VanDeest 3, Carter 3, Madison 3, Caird, Hawley), ISU 14 (Odum 6, Cummings 3, Arop 2, Gant, Eitel, Brown). Steals — DU 5 (Berkeley 2, Madison 2, Ugbede), ISU 6 (Cummings 2, Arop, Odum, Burnett). Blocks — DU 2 (Madison, Enevold), ISU 7 (Kitchell 4, Cummings 2, Arop). Turnovers — DU 12 (Team 3, Berkeley 2, Carter 2, Madison 2, Enevold 2, VanDeest), ISU 9 (Arop 3, Cummings 3, Odum 2, Eitel). Total fouls — DU 17, ISU 13 A — 5,449.
Next — ISU (18-6, 9-3) plays at Bradley and Drake (12-12, 3-9) plays at Missouri State on Wednesday.