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November 29, 2013

Sycamores outpace Seawolves

Despite allowing 87 points, ISU appears to make some strides on defense

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Indiana State wanted a better defensive effort in its Great Alaska Shootout consolation semifinal game against host Alaska-Anchorage on Friday, but the Seawolves weren’t going to give the Sycamores an orthodox offense to assess themselves with.

The Division II Seawolves like to run and gun, emphasis on “gun,” as they take and make mid-range and 3-point shots in their sleep. UAA also tried to take maximum advantage of its strengths by starting small with what amounted to a five-guard lineup against ISU.

It wasn’t going to be easy for the Sycamores to demonstrate defensive improvement, given how many shots and how many possessions there would be in an up-tempo game.

This was reflected in the final score, a 97-87 victory for the Sycamores at Sullivan Arena, but despite the high point total, ISU coach Greg Lansing thought it was a good first step.

“I thought our guys did a good job. We fouled a little bit too much in the first half, we didn’t communicate as well as we need to, we had some breakdowns, but we played hard. We earned the right to get a W today,” Lansing said.

ISU was by no means perfect. UAA scored after missed assignments and close-outs and the Sycamores were prone to UAA’s endless array of head fakes and ball fakes, but it was a start.

“We kept them off the line more in the second half and that helped us. They’re a hard team to match up with. They had a lot of shot fakes, a lot of dribble-drives and they keep it moving. It’ll make us better defensively because we had to talk a lot,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said.

It helped ISU (4-2) that its offense was tip-top. The Sycamores shot 55.6 percent. ISU shared the ball very well with 22 assists. Odum had 10 of them and Dawon Cummings had nine.

Justin Gant was too big for the Seawolves to handle in the paint, despite their efforts to do so with a packed-in zone. Gant had 19 points and six rebounds.

Odum had 13 points and six rebounds to go with his 10 assists. Manny Arop had 17 points, Dawon Cummings had 15 and Khristian Smith, who got a late start due to UAA’s small lineup, scored 11.

ISU converted 8 of 22 from 3-point range. Despite the fact that the Sycamores have shot well from long range this season, UAA banked on ISU returning to its uneven 2012-13 shooting form with its zone.

“We hoped they’d live up to their historical shooting percentage as opposed to their recent shooting percentage,” UAA coach Rusty Osborne said. “They aren’t real aggressive on their switches. We go smaller and that makes it hard [for ISU]. It’s an advantage for us.”

UAA’s offense was relentless, and it took time for ISU to get used to it. UAA marched to the line 14 times in the first half and made 13.

Still, ISU’s offense kept the Sycamores in front for much of the opening half. ISU converted 50 percent of its shots and made three of its first five 3-point attempts. After UAA took a 26-25 lead at 8:21, ISU’s 7-0 run put the Sycamores in front for the rest of the half. ISU’s lead peaked at 44-35 with 2:16 to go to halftime.

But the Seawolves kept coming. UAA closed the half on an 8-2 run and trailed just 46-43 at the break.

There was no coattail effect for UAA in the second half, though, as ISU broke UAA’s stranglehold on the paint. ISU drove the ball, reversed it, and scored all but three points in the lane in a 17-8 run to start the second half to take a 63-51 lead. ISU’s lead peaked at 78-62 with 10:14 left.

“Our game plan for every game is to go inside-out. It doesn’t have to be touches for the post players, but cuts and dribble-drives. Doing that opened the lane up, it kept the defense moving and allowed us to take some good shots,” Gant said.

Scrappy UAA (5-3) never stopped running and gunning and closed the gap to 92-85 with 1:33 left, but UAA got sloppy down the stretch. It committed three turnovers in four possessions in the final two minutes and that was a mortal blow to any comeback hope.

“The coaches stressed that we can’t let Tulsa beat us twice. We had to bounce back and get some momentum going,” Odum said.

The Great Alaska Shootout eschews the traditional first-third-fifth-seventh place format in an eight-team tournament, so ISU will play for fourth place at 6 p.m. today against Pepperdine. The Waves defeated Denver 68-56 in Friday’s other consolation semifinal.

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