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January 26, 2014

Sycamores find shooting touch, dominate Illinois State

VIDEO: Manny Arop, Jake Odum and Khristian Smith discuss ISU's 14th win in 16 tries

TERRE HAUTE — Coaches and players on Indiana State’s men’s basketball team will be the first ones to admit that they’re capable of playing better.

But when the Sycamores are good, as they were in Saturday’s 76-62 victory over Illinois State at Hulman Center, they can be very good.

The veteran Sycamores controlled a young Illinois State team for the majority of the contest. It was the 14th victory in 16 games for the Sycamores — the two losses were to top 25 teams on the road.

ISU (16-4, 7-1) remained within striking distance of first-place Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference race.

“We’re getting closer to playing a full 40-minute game. We probably had 35 quality minutes tonight. It’s a good team win. Everyone contributed,” said ISU point guard Jake Odum, who had 10 points and five assists.

The Sycamores haven’t won style points in all of their victories — ISU struggled in its 65-61 victory at Loyola last Wednesday — but the wins keep coming regardless. When pin-pointing ISU’s faults in certain games, it can be easy to lose sight of that.

“It’s pretty nice to know you’re not playing your best basketball and you’re 16-4 and 7-1. But there’s a long way to go,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.

Good shooting undeniably helped ISU’s cause. After going five games without shooting better than 33.3 percent from 3-point range, the Sycamores exploded and hit 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) against Illinois State. ISU converted 9 of its first 13 attempts from long-range.

The shots broke Illinois State’s 2-3 zone. ISU has struggled against zones at times this season, but for the most part, its attack was crisp against the Redbirds.

“[Assistant] Coach [Marcus] Belcher did a good job of showing where the openings were in the zone,” Odum said. “We sat down, waited for the reversal to get there and swung it into the middle. Once you get the ball into the middle of the zone then you can go anywhere with it. We did a good job compared to what we normally do against 2-3 zones,

Five different Sycamores made 3-pointers. Illinois State coach Dan Muller noted that when there’s so many Sycamores to worry about from beyond the arc, it stresses a zone to its breaking point.

“It’s really hard when they go 11 of 21 from three. They’re going to beat a lot of teams. Some of them were too open, and that’s because of us, but some of them weren’t,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said.

Not coincidentally, shooters Dawon Cummings and Manny Arop co-led ISU with 14 points. Arop added a team-high eight rebounds.

ISU also played solid on the defensive end. Aside from an 18-9 first-half run, the Redbirds struggled. After converting just 1 of 25 from 3-point range in a loss to Wichita State last Wednesday, Illinois State stayed cold as it made 4 of 19 against the Sycamores.

Leading scorer Daishon Knight (13.1 ppg) was never a factor. He scored eight, but most of the points came late in the contest. Bobby Hunter led Illinois State with 13 points.

ISU started well and had an early 18-9 lead. Illinois State — a team that has started games well this season — scored on just four of its first 14 possessions.

“That’s the first time we haven’t been ready to start the game in a while,” Muller said. “We weren’t ready to compete with this team today. [Indiana State] is really good. They’re well-coached and they’re really old and talented with all of those seniors and juniors.”

The Redbirds (11-9, 4-4) got back in it during a brief period of stagnation for ISU’s offense agains the Illinois State zone by getting it inside. Illinois State fought back to tie the game at 27 with 3:47 left in the first half. All but five of the points scored in the 18-9 run were scored or created in the paint.

The Redbirds got away from that just as the Sycamores began to get their 3-point mojo flowing. ISU ended the first half on a 13-2 run to take a 40-29 halftime lead. Included in the surge were three 3-pointers.

“It was good to see some guys knock them down tonight. We have a lot of guys who can make them,” Lansing said.

The 3-point barrage continued to start the second half. ISU converted four more in the first four minutes of the second half as the lead ballooned to 54-34. It was ISU’s biggest lead of the game, but the Redbirds never threatened the rest of the way. ISU outscored Illinois State 49-35 from the time the game was tied in the first half.

The only blemish of the second half was an awkward fall by Devonte Brown on an attempted blocked shot in the lane. Brown fell violently on his hip, but Lansing said after the game he was OK and that there was no fear of a serious injury.

It was ISU’s seventh consecutive win over Illinois State at Hulman Center.

ISU is on the road for two games this week. The Sycamores start at Southern Illinois on Wednesday and conclude the two-game swing at Northern Iowa next Saturday.

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