Hakaka … it’s the Hawaiian word for “fight.”
Not unlike a Hawaiian volcano roaring to life, Indiana State’s men’s basketball team was able to summon its inner Hakaka on Saturday against Mississippi in the opening game of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
It took overtime to decide it, but ISU’s inspired play had its just reward. The Sycamores held off the once-beaten Rebels and emerged with an 87-85 roller-coaster ride of a victory at the Stan Sheriff Center.
“We had the will to win. We grinded on them. It’s kind of funny, our tour guide at Pearl Harbor said that, ‘grinding is eating. … Grind on them’. That’s kind of been our motto out here,” ISU guard Jake Odum said.
ISU will play No. 18 San Diego State in a Diamond Head Classic semifinal at 5 p.m. today. The Aztecs dropped San Francisco 80-58 in another first round game.
Manny Arop led ISU (6-3) with 27 points as all five Sycamores’ starters reached double-figure scoring. Jake Odum had 16 points and eight assists.
Perhaps most welcome of all for ISU was the play of ISU big man Justin Gant. The Terre Haute native had 12 points and 11 rebounds. Along with Jake Kitchell, he helped the Sycamores face down mighty Ole Miss big men Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner.
“We wanted to get rebounds and grind them out. I felt like we did that,” Gant said. “You have to give respect to their big-time post players. We had to make them take a tough shot and then box them out.”
Ole Miss — ranked 10th in the nation in rebounds — had only a 46-45 rebounding edge.
“I have to give a lot of credit to our big men. Coming into this game, we knew this team would be a handful on the glass. Our big guys just came to battle. They took the fight to them,” Arop said. “It inspired us. It definitely inspired me.”
The inspiration didn’t stop there. Dawon Cummings – who had 10 points – chased Ole Miss gunner Marshall Henderson and made it difficult for him to get too hot. Henderson scored 27, but he needed 23 attempts to get there.
R.J. Mahurin was ISU’s other double-figure scorer with 12 points.
“Our bigs had a job they had to do. The guards had to match up with shooters. It was a great team win. Every person played their role and that’s how we got it done,” Odum said.
The game got off to a lively start as both teams started hot and played to a 14-14 standoff.
Ole Miss averaged 81.6 points per game entering Saturday’s contest, and it appeared the Rebels were well on their way again as a 10-0 run gave the Rebels a 24-14 advantage at the 11:08 left.
But instead of caving in, the Sycamores steeled themselves and punched back.
Arop got the Sycamores pointed in the right direction with a traditional three-point play at 10:11 to end the Ole Miss run. Arop then hit a 3-pointer and two more foul shots to trim ISU’s deficit to 26-22.
Jarvis Summers hit a free throw at 8:57 to make it 27-22, but the Rebels wouldn’t score again until the 2:33 mark.
ISU, on the other hand, couldn’t stop scoring … and the production was spread throughout the team. Mahurin, Gant, Kitchell, Khristian Smith, Cummings and Jake Odum scored in succession to fuel a 15-0 ISU surge.
ISU also maintained its run without Odum on the floor. ISU ultimately put together a 23-3 run, and a good portion of it was compiled with Cummings, Kitchell, Gant, Smith and Devonte Brown on the floor.
“It’s really going to be a key for us as we go down through the season. We ride Jake like a dog. He gets so tired and he competes so hard. Dawon is really coming along. Devonte’s minutes will keep going up if he keeps away from turnovers, but he can really defend,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
Shell-shocked Ole Miss recovered a bit by the end of the half, but ISU still enjoyed its largest lead — 44-33 — at halftime. The Sycamores shot 46.9 percent and 55.6 percent from 3-point range in the first half.
The second half was a roller coaster ride. Ole Miss re-asserted itself inside and wiped out ISU’s halftime lead, but ISU punched back again.
ISU gradually rebuilt its advantage and had a 69-61 advantage with 6:09 left.
Ole Miss (8-2) rallied again and tied the game with 4:30 left. ISU seemed to have enough to carry the day when Cummings hit a three-pointer at the death of the shot clock at 2:13 and when Odum made a free throw with 1:52 left to amass a 75-70 lead.
But the Rebels weren’t done. After slicing the ISU lead to three, a turnover gave Ole Miss a free possession and Summers drained a 3-pointer to tie it.
An Odum turnover with 48 seconds left gave Ole Miss a chance to take the lead, but the Sycamores got the stop and overtime would be needed.
Ole Miss took its first lead since the first half with a bucket on the first possession of overtime, but Gant answered with two buckets and Arop tipped in an Odum miss to make it 81-77. ISU’s overtime lead peaked at six, but the Sycamores had to weather yet another Rebels’ run.
At 85-80, Henderson stole the ball from Odum and later got loose for a long three to make it 85-83. But Odum hit a pair of free throws with 11.1 seconds left to finally put the Rebels in their grave.
“The first half [comeback] really helped us in overtime. We got down 10 and we answered the bell. We played awfully well at both ends of the floor. We knew it would tighten up. We didn’t always play smart, but we played hard,” Lansing said.
The scenario was similar to that ISU had against New Mexico on Dec. 4 at Hulman Center. In that case, the Lobos pulled away for a 77-68 victory. Not this time.
“Our focus on defense was better. Against New Mexico we got away from the gameplan, but here, we stuck with it and did what we wanted to do,” Gant said.
ISU has now won two in a row against SEC competition. The Sycamores won at Vanderbilt last year.
Hakaka … it’s the Hawaiian word for “fight.”
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