TERRE HAUTE —
Every journey starts with a single step. As Indiana State’s men’s basketball team began its two-week trek to St. Louis and the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, it was equally important to regain a spring in that step.
The satisfaction of winning is a simple thing, but it’s a feeling ISU badly needed to regain.
The Sycamores were all smiles when Dawon Cummings converted a layup with 4 seconds left to lift ISU to a 65-64 win over Iona on Saturday at Hulman Center in its BracketBusters’ swan song.
The victory was far from seamless – ISU shot 50 percent at the free throw line and had 15 turnovers – but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Sycamores gladly put their three-game losing streak to bed and were pleased to carry positive momentum into the final week of the regular season.
“It doesn’t matter at this point [how pretty the win was]. We needed to get that confidence back and go forward. When you lose three in a row, you feel like you haven’t won a game in a year,” said ISU forward Manny Arop, who had a season-high 12 rebounds.
R.J. Mahurin led ISU with 16 points, one of four Sycamores in double-figures, the first time ISU has had that many players breach the mark since Feb. 2. Cummings had 13.
Iona’s Lamont “MoMo” Jones led the Gaels with 26 points. Taaj Ridley added 16.
ISU (17-11) was successful, for the most part, at forcing its pace on the Gaels. Iona averaged 81.5 points entering the contest, third-best in the nation, but ISU’s defense frustrated the Gaels when they had to rely on their half-court game.
ISU was particularly effective against Sean Armand – a 43 percent 3-point shooter. He was 0-for-4 from long range. Overall, Iona was 2 of 16 from 3-point land.
“Manny was terrific. He was on Armand a lot of the time. He didn’t give him a decent look the whole game. He’s expending tons of energy on the defensive end. Then he gets nine defensive rebounds?” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
The problem for ISU wasn’t its defense, but its offense giving Iona free chances. Iona scored 18 points off ISU’s 15 turnovers, many of which were unforced. Moreover, ISU’s 8 of 16 performance at the free throw line nearly cost it dearly.
The turnovers and missed free throws overshadowed good aspects of ISU’s offense. The Sycamores shared the ball well and had a season-high 18 assists.
There were three lead changes and four ties in the first half, but it seemed ISU had gained the upper hand by finished the first half on a 12-2 run. Iona scored just two points in the final eight minutes of the half as the Sycamores led 30-22 at the break.
ISU’s lead peaked at 10 early in the second half when its demons began to take hold. A 9-2 Iona run was built on the back of two ISU’s turnovers and ISU’s lead was sliced to 34-31.
ISU led 42-36 when the turnovers became chronic. Giveaways on three consecutive trips led directly to Iona points and the Gaels took a 45-42 lead.
ISU fought back and a pair of 3-pointers by Lucas Eitel put ISU in front 57-53 with 6:21 to go. It would be the last time either team would lead by more than a possession.
With 1:12 left, a Jake Odum 3-pointer put ISU up 63-62 entering the final minute. ISU defended Iona well on a Gaels offensive possession that would eat up most of that final minute, including blocked shots by Cummings and Justin Gant, but Iona managed to get the loose ball and a tie-up with 29 seconds.
ISU continued to play strong defense, but it appeared fortune had abandoned the Sycamores when Cummings was whistled for a touch foul on Armand with 9 seconds left. Armand made both free throws to put Iona up 64-63.
“I don’t know how much I would’ve heard it from coach after that foul. I’m glad I was able to make the layup and change the game a little bit,” Cummings said.
Cummings’ game-winner started when Odum dribbled up the left side and found the junior guard in the left corner. Cummings drove baseline, converted his layup to put ISU up one, and was fouled by Armand. Cummings missed the free throw, but the damage had already been done to the Gaels.
“It was a great play by Dawon to take it to the rim. It was huge. We haven’t had a finish like that in a while. He stepped up and made the play,” Mahurin said.
It was ISU’s first February BracketBusters victory since 2009. ISU also clinched its fourth consecutive winning season which matched the 1998-2001 era for the Sycamores. If ISU had lost to Iona, and lost all of its remaining games and a possible postseason game, it would’ve finished at .500.
For Iona, the loss was excruciating. The Gaels (15-13) have lost five of their last six -- all of the losses were by a possession or less and by a total margin of 11 points.
ISU plays host to Drake on Wednesday in its final regular season home game of the season. ISU finished MVC play next Saturday at Evansville.
Lansing didn’t mince words when emphasizing the importance of Wednesday’s game against Drake
“It’s big that we won. Wednesday is the Super Bowl as far as I’m concerned with Drake coming in here,” Lansing said.
“I told them we have three seasons left. This is a three-game season, St. Louis is hopefully a three-game season and then there’s the postseason. I told to attack them one at a time and see how we do,” he added.
IONA (64) – Ridley 6-12 3-4 16, Laury 3-6 3-4 9, Jones 8-20 10-11 26, Sledge 0-3 0-0 0, Armand 2-10 2-2 6, Gomez 1-3 0-0 3, Bowman 2-5 0-0 4, Dennis 0-0 0-0 0. 22-59 FG, 18-21 FT, 64 TP.
INDIANA STATE (65) – Gant 2-5 2-4 6, Mahurin 6-11 2-6 16, Arop 4-16 2-2 10, Cummings 6-9 0-0 13, Odum 3-7 2-2 10, Kitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Eitel 2-7 0-0 6, Brown 1-1 0-0 2, Burnett 1-3 0-0 2, K. Smith 0-3 0-2 0. 25-62 FG, 8-16 FT, 65 TP.
Halftime score – ISU 30-22. 3-point goals – IC 2-16 (Gomez 1-3, Ridley 1-2, Jones 0-5, Armand 0-4, Sledge 0-1, Bowman 0-1), ISU 7-20 (Eitel 2-6, Mahurin 2-3, Odum 2-3, Cummings 1-1, Arop 0-4, Burnett 0-2, K. Smith 0-1). Rebounds – IC 39 (Laury 11, Bowman 11, Ridley 7, Armand 5, Team 2, Jones, Gomez, Dennis), ISU 40 (Arop 12, Mahurin 6, Gant 5, Cummings 5, Odum 4, Team 4, Kitchell, Eitel, Burnett, K. Smith), Assists – IC 9 (Jones 3, Laury 2, Gomez 2, Armand, Bowman), ISU 18 (Odum 7, Brown 3, Gant 2, Mahurin, Arop, Kitchell, Eitel), Steals – IC 10 (Jones 5, Bowman 2, Laury, Sledge, Armand), ISU 7 (Mahurin 2, Cummings 2, Gant, Cummings, Eitel), Blocks – IC 1 (Armand), ISU 6 (Gant 2, Arop, Cummings, Mahurin, Burnett), Turnovers – IC 14 (Jones 3, Laury 3, Ridley 2, Armand 2, Sledge, Dennis), ISU 15 (Brown 4, Arop 3, Cummings 3, Odum 2, Gant, Mahurin, K. Smith), Total fouls – IC 16, ISU 17. Fouled out – Armand. A – 4378.
Next – ISU (17-11) plays host to Drake on Wednesday. Iona (15-13) plays host to Loyola (Md.) on Friday.