Morehead, Ky. —
Indiana State swingman Khristian Smith put it best in describing the Sycamores’ 71-63 loss to Morehead State on Saturday.
“They came out and punched us in the face,” Smith said.
ISU not only took the first punch from the spirited Eagles, but did little to parry any of the blows that followed.
The Sycamores lost their mojo deep in the foggy mountains of eastern Kentucky, and despite the best efforts of the foul and turnover-prone Eagles to let them recover it, ISU never did. The resulting loss left the Sycamores maligning their toughness.
“You have to give them a ton of credit. They were the tougher team today, there’s no question. They completely asserted themselves at both ends of the floor,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
Smith led the Sycamores with 20 points, a career-high. Manny Arop added a career-high 19 and Jake Odum had 15, but little went right for ISU.
The lively Eagles forced their style of play — frantic and kinetic ball pressure — on the Sycamores and ISU could not muster the energy, nor conjure the mistake-free play, needed to handle it.
“You go on the road against a team like this that puts ball pressure on … you have to be tough. You have to attack, you have to come to the ball, you have to want the ball. You can’t just be afraid to not make a play. We just didn’t come out from the get-go,” Odum said.
The Sycamores had 17 turnovers and shot 22.7 percent from 3-point range. Morehead State shot 48.9 percent and 52.9 percent from 3-point range.
ISU’s response to strong starts to both halves was a lack of calmness that Lansing lamented.
“It’s hard to simulate that stuff in practice, we don’t play teams like this often, but you have to handle it with calmness. They want to create chaos and they did that in too many minutes and too many spurts today. We didn’t handle it well,” Lansing said.
ISU’s inability to stay cool was reflected in its shooting, particularly its 3-point shooting. ISU was 5 of 22 from 3-point range. ISU has struggled all season from long-range, but it’s struggles on Saturday has as much to do with some hurried shots as it did inaccuracy.
“We just can’t settle. We haven’t shot the ball well all year. When we swing the ball around, we have to attack more and be more aggressive. We have to attack. We have to get the ball in the paint and score,” Odum said.
Lansing thought most of ISU’s 3-point attempts were sound. He wants ISU to take open jumpers when it has them. ISU is shooting 31.7 percent from 3-point range this season.
“I thought most of them were good shots. A couple were quick. It’s something we have to keep working on,” Lansing said.
ISU (4-3) couldn’t match Morehead State’s energy on either end of the floor. The Eagles jumped to a 9-2 lead, using its pressure defense to give its half-court offense energy.
ISU never really got the hang of the tempo in the opening 20 minutes. The Eagles (5-5) forced 10 first half turnovers, seven in the first 10 minutes alone. ISU tried to mix and match combinations without success. At times, ISU tried to shoot its way out of trouble, but hurt itself in the bargain, as ISU was 1 of 7 from 3-point range in the first half.
“Their tempo dictated the whole game. We rushed a few things. We couldn’t get over the hump,” Smith said.
Morehead State had a 13-point lead with 3:03 left in the half before its frantic style of play began to work against it. Morehead State is last in the NCAA in fouls (26 per game) and that weakness began to show in the final three minutes.
ISU finished the half on a 9-2 run to cut its halftime deficit to 32-26 as all of ISU’s points were scored at the free throw line.
ISU’s deficit was cut to three just after the break, but then it went back into a funk. A 13-0 Morehead State run gave the Eagles their biggest lead at 45-29.
To that point in the half, ISU had made 1 of 6 from the field and had three turnovers. Smith — one of the few ISU bright spots — got ISU’s ship turned around. He converted a three-point play at 14:04 that sparked a 10-0 ISU run, which cut the deficit to 45-39.
ISU would close the gap to 49-46 and 52-49, but in each case, Morehead State answered with a 3-point bucket to maintain the gap.
ISU closed the gap to 59-57 with 2:56 left and had a possession to tie the game, but an Odum shot didn’t fall at 2:07. The Eagles once again got a timely 3-point bucket — this time by Angelo Warner with 1:01 left — to restore a multi-possession lead.
ISU would not get within a possession again. The Sycamores couldn’t string together successive shots to get back in it as ISU made just one of its last seven 3-point attempts.
ISU has exams this week. It returns to action next Saturday with a game at IUPUI.
“We have to be tougher. Coach Lansing said we can’t turn it on like a light switch. It always has to be turned on,” Odum said.
INDIANA STATE (63) — Kitchell 0-0 0-1 0, Arop 6-13 4-4 19, Eitel 1-3 0-0 3, Odum 3-9 9-12 15, K. Smith 6-9 8-11 20, Gant 0-1 0-0 0, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Cummings 1-7 3-5 6, Burnett 0-1 0-0 0, Mahurin 0-3 0-0 0. 17-46 FG, 24-33 FT, 63 TP.
MOREHEAD STATE (71) — Posthumus 1-2 3-4 5, Reed 1-2 0-0 2, Atkinson 2-4 0-1 5, Warner 4-8 5-6 15, Stickler 1-3 0-0 3, Kelly 0-1 2-2 2, Lewis-Briggs 4-7 0-0 8, Stokes 1-1 0-0 3, Turner 0-1 0-0 0, Percell 0-1 0-0 0, Chavis 4-6 5-10 15, James 1-3 2-2 5, Holmes 3-6 1-2 8. 22-45 FG, 18-27 FT, 71 TP.
3-point field goals — ISU 5-22 (Arop 3-8, Cummings 1-6, Eitel 1-3, Odum 0-2, Mahurin 0-2, Burnett 0-1), MSU 9-17 (Warner 2-4, Chavis 2-2, James 1-3, Stickler 1-2, Holmes 1-2, Atkinson 1-1, Stokes 1-1, Lewis-Briggs 0-2). Rebounds — ISU 29 (Arop 6, Kitchell 4, Team 4, Eitel 3, Gant 3, Cummings 3, Odum 2, Mahurin 2, K. Smith, Brown), MSU 32 (Holmes 8, Lewis-Briggs 6, Team 5, Reed 4, Posthumus 2, Atkinson 2, Chavis 2, Warner, Stickler, Turner). Assists — ISU 8 (Odum 2, Mahurin 2, Arop, Eitel, K. Smith, Cummings), MSU 15 (Atkinson 4, Warner 3, Chavis 2, Holmes 2, Reed, Stickler, Lewis-Briggs, James). Blocks — ISU 4 (Kitchell, Odum, Cummings, Mahurin), MSU 0. Steals: ISU 9 (Eitel 2, Odum 2, Cummings 2, Arop, K. Smith, Mahurin), MSU 10 (Chavis 3, Warner 2, Lewis-Briggs 2, Reed, Atkinson, Holmes). Turnovers — ISU 17 (Arop 5, K. Smith 3, Cummings 3, Kitchell, Odum, Gant, Brown, Mahurin), MSU 19 (Warner 4, Reed 2, Atkinson 2, Stickler 2, Lewis-Briggs 2, James 2, Holmes 2, Posthumus, Chavis, Team). Total fouls — ISU 20, MSU 31. Fouled out: none. A — 2,038.
Next — ISU (4-3) plays at IUPUI next Saturday. Morehead State (5-5) plays at South Dakota on Wednesday.