TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State expected a battle royale against Evansville. Evansville expected a battle royale too. Many fans at Hulman Center expected a battle royale.
Guess what? It was a battle royale.
Evansville delivered the early blows, but ISU had more stamina, and controlled the late rounds.
The reward was a 72-62 victory which puts the ISU men solidly in the top half of the Missouri Valley Conference.
ISU (12-6 overall) moved to 5-2 in the MVC and has third place by itself. The Sycamores are one game behind co-leaders Creighton and Wichita State.
Manny Arop led ISU with 19 points on 7 of 9 shooting. Jake Odum added 17 with six assists. Arop was outstanding in the second half as he scored 13 and converted several buckets at crucial times to build ISU's gap.
"The coaches told me to keep moving without the ball and that's what I did. The shots fell tonight," Arop said.
ISU coach Greg Lansing was most pleased with the Sycamores' defensive effort. After starting hot, Evansville made just 10 field goals in the second half. Though Aces' sharpshooter Colt Ryan scored 19, many came with the game out of Evansville's reach.
"Lucas [Eitel] picked us up quite a bit as he guarded Colt," Lansing said.
The Sycamores didn’t answer the bell defensively to start the game and Evansville took maximum advantage. The Aces converted seven of its first eight shots to take a 17-6 lead.
Evansville’s lead remained at 11 near the midway point of the first half before the Sycamores began to chip away. ISU’s offense — which had had settled for post-ups and 3-point shots in the early going — began to break the Aces down off the dribble to get layups and free throw opportunities. By the 7:29 mark, ISU had cut its deficit to two.
But ISU went through a frustrating stretch where it couldn’t combine a defensive stop with a bucket.
Even though Evansville scored just one point from the 5:59 mark to the final minute, ISU could not close the gap to less than two.
For the second Saturday in a row, the final minute of the first half was unkind to the Sycamores. ISU had a chance to tie the game, but Odum lost the ball in the paint and Evansville converted into a breakaway for Jaylon Moore.
After R.J. Mahurin was too strong on a leaner in the paint, Evansville used Ryan to draw the defense away, leaving Adam Wing open in the corner for a long two at the halftime buzzer to give the Aces a 32-26 halftime advantage.
But the second half would be a much happier story for the Sycamores.
Evansville’s start to the second half couldn’t have been more polar opposite — the Aces missed eight of their first nine shots — but it was still difficult for ISU to build momentum against the still-stout defense.
ISU tied it at the 15:12 mark on a pair of Arop free throws and then the fun began. ISU tied it four times before Jake Kitchell put ISU in front for the first time at 10:55 on a layup. The lead was 44-42.
The teams traded blows — literally and figuratively — for several more possessions until Arop drained a 3-pointer from the corner and then a 16-footer to give ISU a 49-42 lead with 8:47 to go. At that point, Evansville had made just 4 of 22 from the field in the second half
Arop is rarely afraid to shoot, sometimes to the point where it might be considered a forced shot. But ISU's needs his offense, and when Arop is on, as he was Saturday, he's deadly.
"You have to understand that if you call a set for him, he's going to get a shot. He doesn't take that many bad ones and we need him to score. If he takes one bad shot of the nine? He still made seven. When he's defending, I give him more freedom on the offensive end," Lansing said.
ISU kept the momentum going, eventually taking a 56-46 lead with 5:46 left.
ISU has had trouble finishing games, but this time the Sycamores finished strong. Evansville cut its deficit to six one last time, but an Eitel 3-pointer and Arop jumper put ISU in front by 11 and the Sycamores wouldn’t be threatened the rest of the way.
"You have to play for 40 minutes against Evansville or you're going to get beat. We started slow, but in the second half the defense we played picked it up for us," Odum said.
Evansville (11-8, 4-3) shot 28.6 percent in the second half after it had shot 54.2 percent in the first. ISU converted 59.1 percent of its second half buckets and shot 52.2 percent overall.
"They took us out of a lot of stuff. They raised their intensity level and we didn't respond," Evansville coach Marty Simmons said.
ISU next plays at Illinois State on Wednesday.
EVANSVILLE (62) – Mockevicius 1-2 3-4 5, Jones 4-12 1-2 9, Taylor 4-9 3-3 11, Ryan 6-14 6-8 19, Cox 5-9 0-0 11, Sawvell 0-1 0-0 0, Nelson 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 1-2 1-2 3, Wing 2-4 0-0 4, Jahr 0-1 0-0 0, Balentine 0-5 0-0 0. 23-59 FG, 14-19 FT, 62 TP.
INDIANA STATE (72) – Arop 7-9 4-4 19, Mahurin 3-7 0-1 7, Gant 1-5 1-3 4, Brown 1-5 2-3 4, Odum 4-5 9-12 17, Kitchell 4-4 0-1 8, Eitel 2-4 1-2 6, Cummings 1-5 2-2 5, K. Smith 1-2 0-0 2. 24-46 FG, 19-28 FT, 72 TP.
Halftime score – UE 32-26. 3-point goals – UE 2-11 (Cox 1-4, Ryan 1-1, Balentine 0-3, Jones 0-2, Jahr 0-1), ISU 5-12 (Cummings 1-4, Eitel 1-3, Mahurin 1-2, Gant 1-2, Arop 1-1). Rebounds – UE 36 (Taylor 7, Mockevicius 6, Cox 5, Team 5, Moore 4, Jones 3, Sawvell 2, Ryan, Balenitne), ISU 29 (Gant 7, Mahurin 4, Odum 4, Cummings 4, Team 3, Aorp 2, Kitchell 2, Brown, Eitel, K. Smith), Assists – UE 14 (Taylor 5, Ryan 5, Cox 2, Mockevicius, Balentine), ISU 15 (Odum 6, Brown 3, Cummings 3, Arop, Mahurin, K. Smith), Steals – UE 4 (Ryan 2, Mockevicius, Wing), ISU 4 (Eitel 2, Gant, Brown), Blocks – UE 0, ISU 6 (Mahruin 3, Gant 2, Kitchell), Turnovers – UE 9 (Ryan 2, Cox 2, Balentine 2, Moore, Jahr, Team), ISU 10 (Odum 4, Arop 2, Gant, Brown, Cummings, K. Smith), Total fouls – UE 21, ISU 17. Fouled out – Jones. A – 6444.
Next – ISU (12-6, 5-2) plays at Illinois State and Evansville (11-8, 4-3) plays Bradley on Wednesday.