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Down In The Valley: Bradley road musings

Sometimes I have a strong feeling after an Indiana State men's basketball game - win or lose - and sometimes I don't.

I felt pretty strongly about how disappointing the Sycamores were in their loss at Illinois State last Saturday. That was an opportunity missed, if I'm being kind about it. If I'm not feeling so kind, it's a game Indiana State should have won against a weaker opponent.

I don't feel that way, though, about ISU's 72-61 loss at Bradley on Wednesday. I chalk this up to just a standard issue road loss. The Sycamores played hard, but it wasn't enough, but games like this happen away from home all the time.

Sometimes, readers got upset when I write things like that. It can sound like a cop out. Like road wins aren't possible and that it's defeatist to concede that they're difficult to get.

I understand that feeling, and I don't think I'm being defeatist about, just merely pointing out facts. Unless you're a stone cold conference contender, which ISU isn't. Or if you're playing a conference also-ran, which Bradley isn't, then it's very hard to win road games. Period. There's countless statistics you can look up in any sport that backs that up.

At Carver Arena, I have a different view then I do anywhere else in the Missouri Valley Conference. Media seating is on the baseline.

Media seating is also on the baseline at Northern Iowa, but at Bradley, you're much closer to the floor and the table seems higher.

I feel like I'm right on the floor, honestly. It's a cool view, and because it's on the baseline, you get a much different feel for the game then you do when you're courtside on the sideline, like I am at Hulman Center and a few other venues.

What I could see from my perch was a Sycamores team that did seem locked in on their defensive assignments.

When Bradley was attacking my end of the floor, I only saw a couple of obvious missed assignments. I'm sure there were more that the coaches and players know about, but I saw nothing to suggest anything other than good effort being put forth by the Sycamores.

And yet? Bradley shot 50 percent in the half anyway. That's the kind of stuff that happens on the road.

The Braves were good, Elijah Childs especially at positioning himself for high-percentage shots, but there's also an element of fortune and confidence for the home team that rarely happens to road ones. Bradley hit a couple of guarded shots that were, frankly, just bad luck for ISU.

The Braves are also far more confident in where they can shoot and what kind of bounce they're going to get just like any home team is. ISU is the same way inside Hulman Center. 

It reads like a couple of paragraphs waiting for an excuse, but it just takes a lot more to pull out a road win. Sometimes you try and don't get it.

It was the same way on the offensive end for the Sycamores. Playing on the road almost always makes a team press more and ISU was guilty of that when it was trying to stay with Bradley in the last 10 minutes of the second half. The Sycamores did get caught in some bad shooting spots.

But you know what? All of the confidence I attributed to offense for the home team above works for defense too. Bradley never over-did it defensively. They were confident in their gameplan and let it work. It's just easier to conjure that at home.

On top of all of that? Bradley isn't a particularly good matchup for the Sycamores. Ari Boya and Koch Bar, Boya especially, are not a good physical match for any of ISU's bigs. And as good as Tre Williams and Jake LaRavia have been? Childs is a veteran and they're still freshmen and it showed at times on Wednesday.

When you go five-on-five? There's not a single matchup where the Sycamores have a significant edge against any Braves.

So I'm not going to get too bent out of shape about this loss. Yes, it's unfortunate that the Sycamores have fallen back towards the middle of the MVC pack. Yes, it stinks that ISU couldn't make a statement on the road.

But those are both media/fan-speak nonsense. Actually doing those things takes a lot more than talk. ISU was solid for much of Wednesday's contest, but solid isn't good enough against a good team like Bradley.

Players

Note: In this space, we'll discuss some, but not all, players whob played.

• Jordan Barnes (11 points)  When Barnes got hurt in the second half? His impact was out of my sight line, but not out of range of my ears.

I was sitting on that baseline to the right side of the basket from ISU's view. After Barnes dipsy-do'd his way to the bucket and took a hit from Ja'Shon Henry all I saw was Barnes landing near the basket stanchion.

But then I had the most cringe-worthy moment of the season for me ... the sound of Barnes screaming in agony. That was awful.

Most of the time, you don't know the specifics of an injury, but it was very obvious it was his finger. Apparently, it was even more obvious to those of you watching on TV.

It's good that Barnes came back, though he clearly wasn't 100 percent. That's the kind of attitude you want from your leader.

Barnes said he was OK after the game, but we'll see how his dislocated finger feels after the swelling sets in. 

• Tre Williams (13 points, 8 rebounds)  Williams has been quiet the last couple of games, but this was a nice revival.

Williams did a good job on the offensive end to create room for his shot. Ari Boya is an excellent rim protector (three blocks), but he can be had in a one-on-one situation, as he tends to get out of position. 

ISU will need more of the same on Sunday as another big man, Gaige Prim, comes calling.

• Cooper Neese (7 points)  In his last three games, Neese is 2-for-11 from 3-point range. He was 1-for-5 on Wednesday.

In MVC play, Neese is shooting just 31.5 percent from 3-point range. It's hard to figure because Neese shot the ball so well coming out of nonconference play. Some of his 3-point shots have guarded, but not all of them.

Hopefully, Neese can figure things out. ISU needs him and his shooting.

Observations

— Officiating continues to be wildly inconsistent. It affected both teams on Wednesday.

The first half was called very liberally. There were only nine fouls called, despite protestations from both benches of fouls not being called.

Hey, great. If the crew wants to let 'em play, no one's going to complain about that, right? No one is there to watch a foul-fest like ISU's game at Illinois State was.

The problem is that it never seems to stay one way or another. Lightly-called halves morph into heavily-called ones.

And sure enough in the second half, the first half foul count was reached by the 13:55 mark. By the 10-minute mark, a combined 13 fouls were called.

Then ... silence again. Bradley had no fouls called on them from the 5:24 mark to the 1:55 mark. (And ISU also had a stretch from 3:57 to the :51 mark where it wasn't called for anything.)

This was the period where ISU was "looking for calls" instead of running offense. Well, yeah. Up until that point, those fouls had been called ... until they weren't.

Did the game suddenly change in the last five minutes? Not at all. It was still the bruising, physical game it always was with plenty of clashes inside the paint.

It was the officials who changed. From tolerance to zero tolerance back to tolerance with no reason for either the players or the coaches to sense which direction they were going to go in.

Players and coaches are supposed to "read the game" and adjust according to the way the game is being called. But if the game is being called inconsistently? What are they supposed to do?

It wasn't the reason ISU lost on Wednesday, but when players don't know where they stand it just makes the inconsistency in adjudication one more thing you have to overcome.

— All-day snow in Peoria probably kept the turnout down. Attendance was 5,023.

What struck me was how quiet Carver Arena was, especially in the first half. It was very easy to hear individual voices in the arena. Sure, the Braves faithful got loud at the big moments - a lob dunk in the first half and a Boya swat in the second - but this wasn't the seething cauldron Carver Arena can be at its best.

— Proving my point about home teams, all but one of the MVC's hosts won on Wednesday. Many convincingly. None of the results were particularly good for ISU's Thursday-avoidance, but there's no need to hit that panic button yet.

Two scores jumped out as surprising. Missouri State beating Drake in Springfield is not a big surprise. Missouri State beating Drake 97-62 was. The Bears made 14 of 25 from 3-point range. They pay a visit to Terre Haute next.

As eye-opening as Missouri State's season-high 97 points was, Southern Illinois' 38-point dud at Valparaiso in a 55-38 defeat was equally shocking. SIU shot 23.6 percent as its seven-game win streak died in Da Region. SIU only scored 16 points in the first half.

That's a good win for Valpo, and combined with Missouri State's win, not an ideal scenario for the Sycamores. Both the Bears and Crusaders gained a game on ISU. Drake remained a game behind ISU with its loss.

Northern Iowa continued to float along towards a potential at-large bid with a 71-63 win over Illinois State in Cedar Falls. The Panthers avenged one of the two losses its suffered in MVC play this season.

Loyola was pushed by Evansville at the Ford Center, but the Ramblers escaped with a 73-66 win. Evansville led with 3:21 left, but the Aces couldn't sustain offense and Loyola inched their way to a win.

This weekend, Bradley is at Southern Illinois, Valparaiso is at Illinois State and Loyola hosts Northern Iowa on Saturday. The Sycamores host Missouri State and Evansville travels to Drake on Sunday.

Todd Aaron Golden has been Sports Editor and Indiana State beat writer since September 2004. Born in Milwaukee but an Indiana resident most of his adult life, he previously worked in Jeffersonville, Columbus and Eau Claire, Wis.

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