TERRE HAUTE —
For as long as he’s been in the Missouri Valley Conference, Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson has been a recurring nightmare for Indiana State’s basketball team.
Hinson’s Salukis descended upon Hulman Center on Saturday. All of the horrors Hinson’s teams usually inflict upon the Sycamores swooped in with him.
ISU tossed and turned as SIU’s zone defense kept them in an uncomfortable slumber. So did the pace of the Salukis’ offense. Playing offense at a glacial, but patient, pace, the Salukis marched to the line seemingly at will in the first half. When SIU went up seven in the second half, it seemed there was nothing that wasn’t going to wake the Sycamores from their ordeal.
That’s when Jake Odum shook the Sycamores back to consciousness and out of their bad dream.
Much as he did at Bradley in a Wednesday victory, Odum took control. He 11 of his team-high 15 points in the final 11 minutes, 16 seconds of the contest as ISU rallied for a 60-57 victory over the Salukis.
Hinson, who suffered a rare loss to ISU as his career record against ISU fell to 19-6, didn’t need a scoresheet to tell him what the difference was in the game.
“You guys want me to make an opening statement?” said Hinson as he began his postgame press conference. “I have two words: Jake Odum. ... Seniors make big plays in big times, and certainly, Jake did.”
Odum scored six points in a decisive 13-1 run that turned SIU’s seven-point lead into a five-point Sycamores’ advantage they would not relinquish. But it wasn’t just his scoring that made the difference.
Odum went into attack mode, cutting up a SIU zone that had lulled ISU to sleep for the game’s first 30 minutes. He cut through the lane, moved without the ball, and got his teammates doing the same. Once Odum got going, the rest of the Sycamores began to follow suit, finding holes in the zone to exploit for an extra pass to get easy buckets.
“We knew we had to look ourselves in the mirror down seven,” Odum said. “We had to tighten up a little bit and stick it in the basket.”
Odum’s passing has always been a part of his attack zone repertoire and it was again during the 13-1 run.
After his three-point play put the Sycamores up 45-44, Odum had the ball on ISU’s next possession. With time running out on the shot clock, Odum dribbled diagonally from the left corner, away from the basket. As he entered the lane, he threw a no-look pass against his body to Jake Kitchell, who was under the basket on the right side. Kitchell converted, was fouled, and made his free throw for his own three-point play to make it 48-44.
“That was a big-time play. The guys know I’m going to get them the ball and get them their touches,” Odum said. “They’re always ready. It’s frustrating if I throw it and they don’t catch or it’s frustrating if I miss them in the shooting pocket. But I think our chemistry is good right now.”
ISU’s defense also played a major role during the run. After being outrebounded 20-12 in the first half, ISU recovered for a 20-15 edge in the second half. ISU also had four of its 10 blocked shots in its rally. Four different Sycamores had at least two blocks.
“If I get a layup here and there, great, but I know the way I’m going to help this team is with defense, rebounding, taking charges, little things like that the team needs me to do,” said Kitchell, who had two blocks.
SIU (10-17, 6-8) is markedly improved since its early-season struggles and it never went away, but Odum kept providing daggers. With ISU (20-6, 11-3) up 52-50 with 3:53 left, Odum took a long 3-pointer late in the shot clock. Swish. ISU led 55-48.
“He’s my favorite player in the league. I love him and I hate him. I hated him when he made that three. That was a huge play,” Hinson said.
Still, the Salukis never faded. A three-point play by Desmar Jackson, who led all scorers with 19, with 2:26 left cut ISU’s lead to three. ISU’s last points came on a pair of Khristian Smith free throws with 1:50 left.
It was 60-57 with 15 seconds left after Dawon Cummings missed what would have been a clinching shot, but ISU held firm. Jackson missed a 3-pointer with 9 seconds left, a long rebound fell to Anthony Beane, who missed a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left. SIU rebounded again, but couldn’t get another shot off.
For the first 30 minutes of the contest, it didn’t seem as if a happy ending was in the cards for the Sycamores.
ISU took a 10-5 lead early, but SIU then put a stranglehold on the first half with its 2-3 zone. ISU could not figure out how to attack it and settled for jump shots, not its strong suit in MVC play.
The zone slowed ISU to a crawl. When ISU did get a post touch, it’s shooters were in a rush to get a shot off before SIU’s zone closed their window.
“We tried to get Manny [Arop] and Justin [Gant] in that high post area. Manny wasn’t getting in there and Justin had a tough time making plays when he got it there,” said Lansing, who later put Odum and Smith down low to attack the zone with more success.
The numbers reflected the zone’s effectiveness. ISU was 2 of 8 from 3-point range and shot 33.3 percent overall in the opening half.
SIU didn’t shoot well in the first half -- 34.8 percent -- but it was offset by the Salukis’ 20-12 rebounding edge and its ability to get to the line. SIU slowed the game down and and got to the line. SIU was 8 of 11 from the free throw line and it was a big reason it led 27-24 at the half.
ISU took a 37-36 lead with 14:38 left, but an 8-0 SIU run put the Salukis up 44-37. It seemed a deja vu of ISU’s 19-point loss at SIU Arena on Jan. 29, but the Sycamores snapped out of their bad dream.
ISU came out of its stretch of three games in six days with a trio of victories. ISU also won its 20th game of the season. It’s the earliest in the season ISU has reached that threshold since 1979.
“I commend our guys. That’s 20 wins and 11-3 in the conference. We’re not done yet, but I’m happy for what they’ve accomplished so far,” Lansing said.
ISU next plays host to Evansville on Wednesday.