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December 8, 2013

ISU picks up the defense to take down Eastern Illinois

CHARLESTON, ILL. — When it's cold outside, it takes a while for your car engine to crank.

It wasn't cold inside Eastern Illinois' Lantz Arena on Saturday, but the same principle applied for the Indiana State men's basketball team.

Once the Sycamore engine revved up, the Sycamores cruised to a 66-48 victory over the Panthers.

"We understand, and we've been through a lot, and we know we can't beat a team in the first five minutes of the game. So our key was to be patient and let the game come to us," ISU point guard Jake Odum said.

ISU (6-3) struggled to get its offense going, but the defensive improvement the Sycamores sought after it's struggled in recent games was evident. The Panthers shot 29.6 percent, had 14 turnovers, and scored 24 in each half. The Panthers created some of their own problems with sloppy play, but the Sycamores forced them into much of it.

"That game is great prep for us and for our conference. They were going to use their entire possession [to score] and our defensive concentration was better. Holding them under 30 percent is pretty good defense," ISU coach Greg Lansing said.

Offensively, it took time, but the Sycamores had some catalysts to get their engine running. In the first half, it was Manny Arop, who scored 10 of his 12 points before halftime.

In the second half, it was junior forward Demetrius Moore, and his contribution came at a perfect time for the Sycamores.

After ISU had taken a 13-point second half lead, the Panthers answered with an 11-3 run to cut the Sycamores' lead to 44-39. Part of the deficit was made up by the Panthers after Lansing was victim to some rough justice. He got a technical foul with 11:35 left simply for yelling "that's terrible!" after an ISU foul.

But it proved to be a temporary blip for ISU thanks to Moore. The silky forward scored three buckets in four ISU possessions to help take the lead to 50-39. It gave the Sycamores the boost they needed. Odum and Khristian Smith followed with 3-pointers to fuel a 12-0 ISU run to make it 56-39.

"I came in and tried to be a spark and pick the stars up," Moore said. "We're really deep. We have a lot of guys who can have big nights. Anyone can step up big for us on any night. I just got my blessing tonight."

Moore's teammates were happy to see him get into the flow of things. The junior college transfer has shown his ability in bits and pieces this season, but this was the most important, and longest, flash of his ability he's demonstrated.

"I'm probably the toughest on him than I am any other player. He's really good, but sometimes he's not there. Today he was there for us big-time. That's what we need from him every game. If he can build from this and get better, we're going to be a tough team," Odum said.

The Panthers (3-6) never recovered. ISU pushed its lead to 19 with two minutes left and coasted to victory.

Odum led ISU with 15 points. Arop added seven rebounds to his 12 points. Moore scored a career-high 10.

The first half was a slog offensively for the Sycamores, but the upshot was that they recovered some of their defensive mojo. The Panthers -- who did their best to slow the game down with a deliberate offense -- shot 30.8 percent in the first half and committed nine turnovers.

ISU scored 10 points off those turnovers, but had trouble establishing flow. EIU played well defensively and packed defenders in the paint to take away passing lanes and easy scoring chances. ISU also struggled from long-range to start, missing its first four 3-point attempts.

"They did a good job of slowing it down so it took a while to get the flow going. We played their way for the first 10 minutes, but then we started to pick it up," Odum said.

A good sign for ISU? It's offensive struggles didn't seem to impact their effort on the defensive side.

"You'd probably say it was more the way we played in the past where the defense dictated the offense. I thought our defense for 32 or 33 minutes was pretty good," Lansing said.

The Panthers led 22-21 with 5:10 to go in the half when ISU finally got unstuck. The Sycamores finished the half on a 9-2 run to take a 30-24 halftime lead. Arop scored the last four points to stretch ISU's advantage.

"I wanted to be aggressive. Coach us all to be aggressive and get some easy's. That's what I was going to do at that time," Arop said.

Lansing said after the game that he and EIU coach Jay Spoonhour spoke about continuing the series beyond EIU's return game at Hulman Center next season. They agreed to schedule future games.

ISU has exams next week. It next plays at Missouri-Kansas City next Saturday.

"We knew it was crucial to come get this win. We wanted to come and take care of business on the road and spend a week focused on school," Arop said.

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Tribune-Star/Bob Poynter Fetch and fire: Rex third baseman #15 Ryan Sabo looks to first base after fielding a line drive down the baseline during game action against Quincy. Sabo got the runner for an out.


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