Sycamores proved potential against Hoosiers

Familiar foes: Indiana head coach Teri Moren urges her team on in their in-state match up with Indiana State. The Sycamores beat their former coach 65-61. Tribune-Star/Jim Avelis

BLOOMINGTON — Indiana coach Teri Moren was faced with the task Sunday of beating a group of players she helped bring together and develop during a four-year stint as Indiana State’s coach. 

She had kind words and hugs for everyone after the Sycamores pulled off the upset in Assembly Hall for a 65-61 win over Moren’s previously unbeaten Hoosiers.

As much as coaches wanted to downplay the matchup, it was a big game for the Sycamores. Kelsey Dirks suggested last week ISU would play with “something to prove.”

Coach Joey Wells hopes the Sycamores have something to prove every day.

But what did Indiana State prove with this victory that gave ISU a win over a Big Ten opponent for the second straight season after last year’s win over Northwestern? 

• ISU proved it is a team that enjoys playing together and enjoys fighting for one another.

“It was fun. We don’t feel any type of way toward coach Moren,” Travecia Franklin said. “You’ve got to do what you got to do. But I think this is what basketball’s for, to go out there and play hard. We prepared for this game like any other game, but playing against coach Moren made it a little bit more fun.”

• The Sycamores proved they have the potential to be the No. 1 defensive team in the Missouri Valley Conference again this season. ISU’s backcourt has size, with Natasha Zurek and Stephanie Wittman, and quickness, with Travecia Franklin and Alexis Newbolt, that few teams in the MVC will be able to match. If they can shut down All-Big Ten-caliber guards like Larryn Brooks and Tyra Buss, the Sycamores can cause Valley teams a lot of problems as well.

• ISU proved its depth will be unmatched in the Valley and could exceed that of any mid-major team in the NCAA.

On Sunday, Rhagen Smith was able to spell Racheal Mahan at a crucial juncture in the game. Mahan was engaged in a physical game with equally strong 6-3 center Jenn Anderson throughout the game and took a tough hit that sent her to the bench for an extended rest early in the second half.

Smith, averaging over 6 points per game, stepped up with eight second-half points as ISU was clawing back into the game.

“We got out of there with a win and I don’t think we even played to our full potential, which is even more exciting,” Smith said. “It feels pretty sweet to get that win.”

Moren said Smith’s contributions and the inability to defend Mahan were key.

“They did a good job. They buried us a few times in the paint, made it hard for us to get around. Give Rhagen credit with the minutes she played and made us pay today,” Moren said.

Obviously Jasmine Grier provided scoring punch off the bench, but she’ll play starter minutes throughout the season. Newbolt provides a much needed outside shooter at point guard and Joyea Marshall has been a factor during ISU’s 5-1 start.

Another physical and athletic guard, Cierra Ceazer, will return to the court Thursday at IUPUI.

“Having Kelsey and ‘C’ [Ceazer] back adds an extra. We’re good, but it adds that greatness that we can go all down the line on the bench,” Wittman said. “I think we’ll be a special team.”

• Sunday’s game also proves the Sycamores need to continue to play opponents from the Big Ten, SEC, Big East or any of the power leagues — whatever it takes to take that next step of winning a conference tournament and reaching the program’s first NCAA Tournament.

“We have to schedule these types of games because of our conference. Our conference has been on the young side and some injuries the past year or two,” Wells said. “But it’s back in full force. If we don’t play games like this, there’s no way we can prepare to go on the road against Wichita State or Missouri State, Drake, UNI and think we’re going to win.”

Craig Pearson can be reached by email at craig.pearson@tribstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarCraig. 

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Craig Pearson has been a sportswriter at the Tribune-Star since his days as an undergraduate at Indiana State in the early 2000s. He has covered high school sports, Indiana State women's basketball, professional baseball, and NCAA cross country and track.