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January 6, 2013

FROM THE PRESS BOX: Close but no cigar for Sycamores at Creighton

OMAHA, NEB. — Close but no cigar.

That was how Indiana State’s 79-66 loss to No. 16 Creighton felt on Saturday at the CenturyLink Center.

The game was closer than that most of the way. There were times when the Sycamores had the Bluejays —  and their 17,694 fans —  concerned that the style of play ISU has used to become one of the Missouri Valley Conference’s surprise teams would produce yet another impressive victory.

It wasn’t to be. Creighton was too good and the Bluejays forced their will on the game in the final 10 minutes and pulled away.

That bugged the Sycamores to no end. Though ISU is just now entering the MVC’s spotlight, the Sycamores themselves have felt comfortable in it since the Hawaii trip.

Another moral victory? The Sycamores don’t want any part of it.

“We’ve had enough moral victories this year where we haven’t pulled it off. We’re getting tired of that. We don’t want that anymore. We know we’re a good team that can play with the elite teams in the country. To play the way we did in the last 10 minutes? It's kind of upsetting,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said.

“I’m happy with the effort we’re giving, but their heads are hanging. We had an opportunity to beat one of the best teams in the country in a wonderful environment. We just didn’t get it done,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.

It’s a sign of progress that the Sycamores aren’t willing to see the silver lining in a hard-fought loss.

Declaring their disdain for no moral victories is kind of a moral victory in itself, if a moral victory can be defined as progress over results. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that 7/12ths of ISU’s available roster is just 14 games into their ISU careers. Little was expected of this team, much less the idea that a win at Creighton was not only feasible, but expected by the Sycamores.

It’s left to people like me to see what ISU doesn’t want —  and shouldn’t want — to acknowledge.

ISU played the projected top three teams in the conference in the span of six days, with two of the games on the road. This came on the heels of a hellish multi-day trip home from Hawaii that could have scuttled ISU’s progress before it began.

To come out of what Lansing called “the gauntlet” with a 2-1 record is a success, whether ISU wants to view it that way or not.

Going into it, a 2-1 record was the best-case scenario in my mind for the “gauntlet”. To come out of it with a 3-0 mark would’ve been outstanding, but it also would’ve been gravy. ISU is well-positioned to stay among the MVC’s contenders for the remainder of the season if it keeps playing at a high level.

What’s impressed me about ISU’s start is that it has so much room to grow. Several of ISU’s young players have shown flashes of what they can do —  some have even struggled —  but the team has been playing well anyway. If every Sycamore continues to move in the right direction and come closer to fulfilling their potential, look out MVC.

“Indiana State’s good, in case anyone’s wondering. They’re a disciplined basketball team. I understand now why they came close to winning three games in Hawaii and started 2-0 [in the MVC]. They did a good job of controlling the tempo, especially in the first half,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said after the game.

“They’re going to win a lot of games and be in games because they control tempo well. They fight you defensively. They hit some shots too,” McDermott continued.

It’s good that ISU isn’t satisfied with my big picture standard. In fact, it’s great.

The Sycamores have developed an appetite for success. Having a snack for 30 minutes against the talented Bluejays isn’t good enough to sate them anymore.

“It’s definitely frustrating. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game, but we let it slip away. It’s a good thing [to be competitive against elite teams], but it kind of sucks to keep talking about moral victories,” ISU center Justin Gant said.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Please follow him on Twitter @TribStarTodd.

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