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January 1, 2014

Deep-sixed: Sycamores’ depth proves too much for Loyola in 70-58 ISU victory

TERRE HAUTE — There’s whys and wherefores as to how Indiana State earned its 70-58 victory over Loyola on Wednesday, but in the grand scheme of things it came down to one thing.

ISU has depth. Loyola doesn’t.

That depth the Sycamores possess and the Ramblers envy was put into sharp focus in the second half.

In a six-point contest with 10:48 left, ISU called Lucas Eitel off the bench. He promptly drained a 3-pointer, tipped the ball away on a Loyola turnover and drained another 3-pointer. Suddenly, ISU’s lead was 12.

That’s what kind of a lift a deep bench can give a team. ISU was certainly glad it could call upon extra resources in a game where they needed all of the help they could get against the hard-working Ramblers.

“It’s something we’ve tried to do,” said ISU coach Greg Lansing on building depth. “You look at the better teams in the league and the teams that advance in the NCAA Tournament, you have to improve your depth and athleticism.”

Loyola coach Porter Moser has just one upperclassman playing regularly — Christian Thomas, who led all scorers with 19.

Loyola played its first-ever Missouri Valley Conference game after joining the league in April 2013. Moser knew the uphill climb his Ramblers faced against the deep Sycamores.

“You know teams have a lot of pieces when you go 11-deep on a scouting report,” Moser said. “I like [ISU’s] sophomores and young guys and they don’t have to be team leaders. Our freshmen and sophomores have to be leaders.”

ISU (10-3, 1-0) enjoyed balanced scoring. Manny Arop led ISU with 18 points — the third time in four games he’s paced the Sycamores in scoring. Eight other Sycamores scored. Dawon Cummings was the only other who breached double-figures with 10.

Just as important as Arop’s scoring was his rebounding. He led ISU with seven boards, three of them were offensive rebounds. ISU’s 16 offensive rebounds helped carry the day, especially in the first half, when Loyola was scoring seemingly at will.

“[ISU’s coaches] have been on me and Khristian [Smith] about rebounding and creating extra possessions. It was a conscious effort on our part,” Arop said.

Though Loyola (5-8, 0-1) made it tough on ISU at times — the Sycamores shot 41.4 percent, their lowest percentage of the season — ISU minimized the damage not only via its offensive rebounding, but also thanks to avoidance of turnovers. The Sycamores had eight giveaways. They shared the ball well too. ISU had 17 assists, including six assists against zero turnovers for Devonte Brown.

In addition to it being Loyola’s MVC debut, it was also the return of Terre Haute native Matt O’Leary, a forward for the Ramblers (see related story). O’Leary had a quiet day. He didn’t score in 25 minutes of action, but did have four assists.

O’Leary was one of the few Ramblers who didn’t exploit the Sycamores in a first half where Loyola shot 66.7 percent from the field.

At one point, Loyola scored on nine of 11 possessions as it got one easy layup after another. ISU kept the Ramblers from gaining an advantage with nine second-chance points in the first half.

ISU briefly switched to a zone defense late in the first half and it flummoxed the Ramblers just long enough to help build a 36-32 halftime gap.

“We reacted slow in the first half. Our rotations weren’t as fast as they needed to be,” Arop said.

The second half was a different story. ISU ratcheted up its defense, but shots weren’t falling. There were only 11 combined points scored in the first nine minutes of the second half as ISU’s lead was 43-36.

Eitel’s appearance gave ISU a shot in the arm. The senior’s 3-pointer at 10:23 broke a long drought and gave ISU a 46-37 lead. Eitel then tipped a Loyola pass (the steal was credited to Brown) and drifted into the corner for another 3-pointer to make it 49-37.

“I was glad I could come in and contribute. Depth is one of our team strengths,” Eitel said.

The 3-point makes kick-started a 10-0 run that put the Sycamores up 53-37. Despite a barrage of points from Loyola’s Cody Johnson — he scored 10 from the 8:24 to 5:22 mark — the Ramblers could not do anything more than stay within distant range of the lead for the rest of the contest.

“We guarded much better in the second half, but we have to be better. It’s just a consistency throughout 40 minutes. It’s what we talked about before Christmas and it creeped back on us tonight,” Lansing said.

ISU won its MVC home opener for the fifth year in a row, but there were warning signs to consider as ISU moves forward into MVC play.

The team’s health is chief among them. Several players are banged up, including point guard Jake Odum, who briefly left the game in the first half with a sore left knee. Odum rode a courtside exercise bike to keep himself loose at that stage.

Odum has tendonitis in both of his knees and Lansing knows he needs to give his team as much rest as possible as the MVC grind has begun.

“He has tendonitis real bad. Jake doesn’t complain. It’s never, ‘I need a day off.’ We probably need to make that decision on our own and not listen to him. He doesn’t like to miss anything and he won’t miss anything. We have to be smart as a staff and we need fresh legs to go on the road,” Lansing said.

ISU next plays at Evansville on Saturday.

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