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January 19, 2011

Sycamores bolt into first place behind Kelly's last-second heroics

TERRE HAUTE — In a 15-round fight with Missouri State where first place and league-wide respect was on the line for the Indiana State men’s basketball team, it was only appropriate that the game came down to who delivered the last blow.

Jake Kelly was the one who landed it for the Sycamores.

With ISU down two, Kelly weaved his way down the middle of the lane and converted a layup with :00.6 seconds left in the contest. Kelly was fouled by Missouri State’s Kyle Weems, and after a long officials’ review, he converted the game-winning free throw to give the Sycamores a dramatic 70-69 victory in front of a jubilant 7,230 at Hulman Center.

ISU (12-7, 7-1) became the first Missouri Valley Conference team to take down Missouri State. The victory put the Sycamores into a two-way tie atop the MVC with the Bears.

ISU has won 13 consecutive games at Hulman Center and six in a row overall. There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that this victory was the hardest of them all in the Sycamores’ current hot streak.

“It was back-and-forth all game. We hung with them, they hung with us. It was a great game and both teams played well,” said Aaron Carter, who led ISU with 19 points, including four 3-point makes.

The Sycamores had mostly played teams in the lower half of the MVC in building its fast start. The victory over Missouri State — a team that has already defeated Wichita State, Creighton and Northern Iowa on the road — might bring the Sycamores more respect.

It was certainly something on the minds of the Sycamores themselves after the game.

“Definitely. This is the Valley, there are no weak teams. On any given night, any team can beat you. In everyone’s schedule, they’re going to play who we played. If they want to base it on that, they can go ahead, but we’re going to continue to play hard,” said Carl Richard, who had 18 points and seven rebounds.

ISU found itself in a position to win with 13 seconds left. Missouri State point guard Nafis Ricks — who had skewered ISU as he scored eight of his team-high 17 in the last six minutes of the game — missed a runner in the lane that was rebounded by Carl Richard. Ricks’ miss broke a streak where Missouri State had scored on 12 consecutive possessions.

ISU called a timeout with 4.9 seconds left and had the inbounds pass on the right side.

“Jake usually likes to come left to right, but since the ball was on the other side of the floor, I wanted him to change directions, get as deep as he could. With Aaron in the corner, if they helped at all, it was going to be a pass to Aaron, but Jake made the right play,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.

Kelly got the ball at the top of the key and weaved his way toward the bucket, changing directions several times. He drove right, but went up to the basket with his left hand and was fouled by Weems.

The play was controversial. Officials Zelton Steed and Bo Boroski looked at four different replays to determine whether the foul occurred prior to the expiration of time. The officials looked at both the television monitors on hand and the replay system in Hulman Center, per MVC policy.

MVC commissioner Doug Elgin, associate commissioner Joe Mitch and Mike Kern were all on hand for the game. The league released a statement on the officials’ review after the game.

“At or near the expiration of time, the lead official signaled a foul on 34 red [Weems] on No. 3’s try [Kelly] for a goal. The officiating crew reviewed the play on the courtside monitor to determine whether the foul occurred prior to the expiration of time. The officials determined the foul occurred with 0.6 seconds and that the try for goal was good. The officials informed both coaches and lined up the team for resumption of play at 0.6 seconds on the game clock,” the MVC statement said.

The review might have served to “freeze the kicker,” so to speak, but Kelly calmly converted his free throw.

“I knew the bucket was good, I knew he had fouled me, I wasn’t sure what they were reviewing. Once I got to the line, I was pretty confident,” Kelly said.

Missouri State’s final inbounds pass was tipped away by Carter with :00.6 left. ISU’s black-clad students rushed the floor to celebrate ISU’s latest first-place standing in the MVC calendar since the 2000 season.

Missouri State coach Cuonzo Martin had little choice but to accept the fate handed to his Bears in the final seconds.

“They said he got fouled with :00.6 seconds on the clock. That’s what they said. They made the call. Ballgame,” Martin said. “You have a team that’s 7-0 in the league, you have a team that’s 6-1 in the league, let’s sort it out. Worst case scenario, it goes overtime, but I guess there was a foul called and he called it.”

Lansing thought the foul was the right call.

“Jake definitely got fouled. He’s got marks on his arm. It’s a gutsy call for an official to make. You hate for the game to end like that, but it was a good call,” Lansing said.

Missouri State (15-4, 7-1) led for much of the contest and had a 32-27 halftime advantage, but ISU got back into the game with a 6-for-8 3-point shooting in the second half, much of it coming from Carter.

ISU pulled even at the 12:48 mark on a three-point play by R.J. Mahurin, but Carter’s shooting loomed large as back-to-back three’s gave ISU a 53-48 lead with 7:27 remaining.

Missouri State refused to go away. It had already started its streak of scoring on 12-straight possessions as ISU tried in vain to stem the tide. The lead changed hands four times before a Weems layup at 4:54 put the Bears up 59-58.

Missouri State increased its advantage to 67-62 with 2:14 left when Carter hit his biggest 3-pointer of the game to keep ISU afloat. Ricks responded with a runner in the paint to make it 69-65, but Carter hit a pair of free throws with 43.6 seconds left to draw ISU within two.

Ricks spun in the lane and had a good attempt to give the Bears a two-possession lead, but his leaner rimmed out to set up ISU’s final shot, breaking the 12-possession scoring streak the Bears had been on.

“We’re staying calm in clutch situations. We commit a lot of turnovers, but when its crunch time, we’ve learned how to take care of the ball and lock up on defense, and make sure we get a good shot.,” Richard said.

ISU gets no time to relax as it travels to MVC pre-season favorite Wichita State on Saturday. The Shockers (6-2 MVC) had a chance to join the scrum at the top of the MVC on Wednesday, but lost at Northern Iowa 77-74.

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