TERRE HAUTE —
Comes the hour, comes the man.
Indiana State needed some good men. Because come the 1 p.m. hour against Southern Illinois on Saturday, came the snooze bar for the Sycamores.
The Sycamores started flat – down by 12 four-minutes-into-the-game level of flat – and needed some heroes to infuse the energy needed to keep their Missouri Valley Conference title hopes alive.
Comes the hour, came Khristian Smith. Later, it was R.J. Mahurin. And then, on ISU’s last possession, who else but Jake Odum?
All three played a role in a 66-65 win for ISU as Odum hit a game-winning layup with 19 seconds left. A win is a win, but it was a result that felt more like survival than a victory.
“They came out and knocked us in the mouth. It’s a credit to our guys that we hung in there, but didn’t necessarily deserve to win that one today,” Odum said.
Mahurin led ISU (16-8, 9-4) with 16 points and was 5-for-7 from 3-point range. Odum had 13. Smith had 12, all scored in the first half.
ISU only led for 2 minutes, 54 seconds of game-time against the league’s last-place team. ISU led the 40th minute that matters, not that it made the Sycamores feel much better about it.
“We have a tough time with [SIU]. They handed it to us down there and did the same thing here. The only reason we won today is we were at home and our fans helped us get through. I commend Southern Illinois. We didn’t deserve to win, they did,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
Despite the close shave, the day got a whole lot better for the Sycamores at the crack of midnight. Illinois State defeated Creighton 75-72. Creighton's loss lifted the Sycamores and Wichita State into a three-way tie for first place in the MVC. ISU currently have the tiebreaker edge over both the Bluejays and Shockers.
As they did in a 76-71 victory in Carbondale, Ill. on Jan. 12, SIU’s drivers gave the Sycamores fits. Freshman Jalen Pendleton was chief among them. He had 17 points. One of his few misses was SIU’s final shot at the buzzer. SIU’s Desmar Jackson added 16 for the Salukis.
“We should’ve won the ball game,” SIU coach Barry Hinson said. “I know we’re the doormat, but no one scares me in the league … we scare us. I don’t think we’re as bad as what everyone thinks we are.”
The game began to creep in ISU’s direction with 5:34 left. Down 55-49, Mahurin conjured his sixth-career four-point play to cut SIU’s lead to two. It was a play that came seemingly out of nowhere and one that ISU badly needed.
Though SIU answered with points on its three possessions, Mahurin’s shot tightened the gap at a crucial moment.
When Dawon Cummings missed a free throw with 3:13 left – ISU made just 10 of 18 in the second half and 60 percent overall – it paradoxically worked in the Sycamores’ favor. ISU tracked down the rebound and Odum tied the game with a runner at 3:05 to make it 59-all.
But finishing the Salukis off was never going to be easy. After Kendal Brown-Surles hit a 3-pointer at 2:35, Mahurin drained a 3-pointer from the corner to tie it again. ISU got over the top to take a 64-62 on a pair of Odum free throws with 1:30 left.
But the Salukis had no quit in them. Pendleton converted a traditional three-point play with 1:09 left to put SIU back up 65-64. And when Mahurin missed a 3-pointer with 53 seconds left, it appeared the Salukis held the better winning hand.
But Mahurin kept his wits. When SIU’s Anthony Beane Jr. drove the lane with 35.9 seconds left, Mahurin stood his ground and drew a charge that gave ISU the ball back without having to foul.
“I had just air-balled a 3-pointer, so I felt I had to come back and make a big hustle play,” Mahurin said.
Though ISU could have played for the late shot, it didn’t want to take that risk. Once the ball got into Odum’s hands, he made no mistake, he drove the right side of the lane and converted a contested layup with 19 seconds left to put ISU up one.
“I asked Lou [Gudino, ISU Associate Head Coach] in the last timeout, ‘Should we go for the last [shot]?’ I just wanted it to be over with. We felt we were better on defense than we had been earlier in the game, so we felt comfortable guarding them,” Lansing said.
Hinson felt aggrieved on its last SIU possession. Jackson lost the ball near the top of the key with 10 seconds left and Hinson felt there was contact by Manny Arop during the scramble. Jackson recovered the ball and got it to Pendleton on the baseline. His shot bounced harmlessly off the rim and ISU escaped.
“It was a heckuva last play. I don’t know if you saw the one I’m talking about? Where Des [Jackson] got pummeled at half-court?” said an animated Hinson. “… Gets the fire knocked out of him on the ground. It was a heckuva play. That’s my sarcastic way of saying I didn’t agree with that.”
Hinson also lamented SIU’s missed free throws. The Salukis were 9 of 20 in the second half and shot 57.7 percent overall.
ISU put itself in a hole from jump. It would be hard to conceive a flatter start for ISU. The Sycamores, who had five turnovers total in Wednesday’s win over Creighton, had reached the mark by the 14-minute mark in the first half.
Defensive intensity was absent and the focused Salukis made the off-kilter Sycamores pay. SIU led 13-1 before the first media timeout.
Smith answered ISU’s distress call and got the Sycamores settled. Smith scored eight points of ISU’s points in a 15-7 run that helped cut ISU’s deficit to 20-16 with 8:23 left in the half.
“I felt the energy wasn’t there, so I felt I just had to go and do it,” Smith said.
ISU starters began to awaken, an 8-2 run tied the game with five minutes left in the half. ISU took the lead on a Smith layup at 2:44, but SIU finished the half on a 7-2 run to lead 34-31 at halftime.
Though ISU seemed to have the momentum entering the second half, it quickly squandered it. The Salukis started the half on a 9-2 run to restore their double-digit advantage. A mid-half 10-0 run briefly gave ISU the lead, but SIU responded with a 10-3 run to take a six-point lead by the time of Mahurin’s four-point play.
ISU plays its next two games on the road, starting with Missouri State on Tuesday. It knows an effort like Saturday’s won’t cut if they want to remain in the MVC race and in NCAA Tournament consideration.
“If you want to contend for a championship, you can’t play like we did today. We didn’t get better today. Southern Illinois had a lot to do with it,” Lansing said.
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS (65) – Daniels 4-9 4-9 12, Brown-Surles 1-4 0-0 3, Jackson 4-7 7-12 16, Lindsay 1-5 0-1 2, Early 1-2 0-0 2, Pendleton 6-9 4-4 17, Drinkard 0-0 0-0 0, Long 1-2 0-0 3, Taylor 0-0 0-0 0, Beane 4-7 0-0 10. 22-45 FG, 15-26 FT, 65 TP.
INDIANA STATE (66) – Arop 1-7 4-4 6, Mahurin 5-7 1-1 16, Gant 2-5 0-0 4, Brown 0-2 3-6 3, Odum 4-7 5-7 13, Kitchell 2-2 1-2 5, Eitel 1-4 0-0 3, Cummings 1-5 1-2 4, K. Smith 6-8 0-3 12. 22-47 FG, 15-25 FT, 66 TP.
Halftime score – SIU 34-31. 3-point goals – SIU 6-13 (Beane 2-2, Brown-Surles 1-3, Jackson 1-3, Long 1-2, Pendleton 1-1, Lindsay 0-2), ISU 7-18 (Mahurin 5-7, Eitel 1-4, Cummings 1-2, Arop 0-4). Rebounds – SIU 32 (Jackson 7, Pendleton 7, Daniels 6, Brown-Surles 3, Lindsay 2, Early 2, Team 2, Drinkard, Taylor, Beane), ISU 30 (Cummings 8, K. Smith 6, Arop 4, Gant 4, Kitchell 3, Team 3, Mahurin, Brown), Assists – SIU 12 (Brown-Surles 5, Daniels 3, Jackson 2, Lindsay, Pendleton), ISU 16 (Odum 5, Eitel 3, Arop 2, Brown 2, K. Smith 2, Kitchell, Cummings), Steals – SIU 7 (Jackson 2, Beane 2, Brown-Surles, Lindsay, Pendleton), ISU 8 (Odum 4, Kitchell 2, Brown), Blocks – SIU 2 (Daniels, Drinkard), ISU 7 (Mahurin 3, Odum 2, Gant, K. Smith), Turnovers – SIU 14 (Daniels 3, Jackson 3, Beane 3, Brown-Surles 2, Early, Pendleton, Drinkard), ISU 12 (Mahurin 3, K. Smith 3, Brown 2, Arop, Gant, Odum, Cummings), Total fouls – SIU 22, ISU 18. Fouled out – Beane. A – 5821.
Next – ISU (16-8, 9-4) plays at Missouri State on Tuesday. SIU (9-15, 2-11) plays host to Evansville on Wednesday.