In a game that wasn’t truly decided until the last two minutes, it might seem paradoxical to make the case that the most important moment for the Indiana State men’s basketball team against Drake on Saturday came five minutes into the game.
The starting Sycamores came out of the gate very sluggish and Drake had an early lead. ISU coach Greg Lansing didn’t hesitate. He put his trust in ISU’s bench and substituted four of the five starters.
The effect on the game was immediate — ISU went on a 7-0 run to take the lead.
But the trust factor Lansing has with his bench and that the players have on the floor with one another was longer-lasting and built upon itself as the game went along. The Sycamores placed their trust in one another and nearly every player who played contributed in a 75-63 victory over Drake at Hulman Center.
“I know how important this game was and I wanted to get off to a good start and we didn’t do that. But you throw J.P. [Jordan Printy] and Steve [McWhorter] in right away and they were terrific. I trust everyone of those guys. I can certainly rely on your bench and their teammates can rely on them too,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
The genesis of the trust ISU (14-12, 9-6) has built amongst themselves comes from point guard Jake Odum. The redshirt freshman had his first career double-double as he had 20 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four assists.
As he has throughout the Missouri Valley Conference season, Odum not only set the table for his own assists, but set the tone for his teammates to trust and create plays for one another. Six different Sycamores had assists in the contest.
“We found a group that meshed together good. Swinging the ball and cutting — that’s what opens up the lanes for me to drive or kick to a shooter,” Odum said. “Our trust is huge. If you don’t have trust, you can’t play as a team. We’ve focused on playing as a cohesive group lately, and if we do, we’ll win games.”
Carl Richard also had 20 points and did most of his damage at the line after a slow start. Richard was 9 of 11 at the charity stripe, with all but one of the attempts coming in the second half as the Sycamores went to the line 19 times after halftime, making 13.
But while Odum and Richard led the scoring, it was the contributions of others that seem small on the stat sheet, but that were vital in keeping pesky Drake at arm’s length. ISU’s bench scored 21 points, many coming at critical junctures.
To wit … all five of Printy’s points came in that early 7-0 run that got the Sycamores on track. R.J. Mahurin, who had nine points, also scored in that opening run and had a couple of late defensive stops to keep Drake from gaining a foothold.
Isiah Martin’s contribution was well-timed and he made his mark on both ends of the floor. With ISU holding on to a tenuous 53-48 lead with 10 minutes left, Martin converted buckets on consecutive trips down the floor and also had two blocks in a productive second half shift that helped ISU increase its lead to nine.
“I’m always eager, I’m always ready to come in. This is my last go-around, so I’m always ready. The bench does a good job and we do well in practice. They always know they can count on us,” Martin said.
Once ISU’s bench got ISU back in the game, it was an even affair throughout the first half. The lead changed hands five times until Dwayne Lathan leaned in for a three-footer with 3:47 left in the half to put the Sycamores up to stay. But it was never more than a one-possession lead until Odum hit a 3-pointer at the end of the half to give ISU some halftime breathing room with a 35-30 advantage.
ISU was up 41-36 with 14:45 left when Myles Walker received a technical foul for elbowing Drake’s Reece Uhlenhopp. Drake converted the technical free throws and made two more free throws on the possession after the free throws to pull within 41-40 with 14:26 left.
Holding on to a precarious lead, the Sycamores began to attack the basket. Odum and Steve McWhorter each converted old-fashioned three-point plays to put ISU up seven, its biggest lead to that point in the game. A Mahurin 3-pointer at 12:20 made it 50-42, but Drake fought back to get within four just a minute later.
The pattern had been set — ISU was able to answer each Drake run with one of its own and also matched Drake’s baskets with points of its own. Martin’s flurry came next as he and Richard helped ISU to a 7-2 run to take a 59-50 lead. ISU maintained that advantage until Ryan Wedel hit a pair of 3-pointers, the last coming at 2:03 to cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to 68-63.
ISU answered the bell again, and this time, Drake would have no response. Odum converted a layup at 1:40 to make it 70-63 and Drake got sloppy and only managed to attempt one more shot for the rest of the contest.
ISU shot 52.2 percent as it got better offensively as the game progressed and scored 34 points in the paint.
“The team that gets the most good shots wins and they got a lot of shots at the rim. Fifty-two percent is hard to overcome on the road,” Drake coach Mark Phelps said.
The victory all but assured ISU of avoiding the Thursday play-in round of the MVC Tournament for the second consecutive year. The only way the Sycamores would play on Thursday in St. Louis is if ISU lost all of its remaining MVC games and Southern Illinois won all of its games. SIU plays at Creighton tonight and ISU plays at SIU on Wednesday.
ISU has a three-game lead over Drake, but with the season sweep, ISU has the head-to-head tiebreaker edge over the Bulldogs. ISU has won six in a row against Drake, its longest winning streak against another MVC team since it won seven in a row over Evansville from 1999-2003.