It’s one thing to lose. It’s another to get beat and not be the tougher team on your home floor.
That’s what displeased Indiana State men’s basketball coach Greg Lansing the most after an impressive Morehead State team continually asserted their will in a 71-65 victory Saturday at Hulman Center.
The game fulfilled ISU’s BracketBusters commitment for the season, and though the BracketBusters is sometimes deemed meaningless by fans if their team doesn’t have a NCAA Tournament shot on the line, don’t tell that to Lansing.
“I think they came in here and out-worked us,” Lansing said. “This game didn’t affect our conference standing, but it’s a game in your own building you want to win. A team that comes in and works harder than our team? It doesn’t sit well with me.”
It wasn’t as if the Sycamores didn’t know what was coming. A lot of attention was paid in pre-game practices as far as respecting the Eagles’ ability to force their defensive will on opponents with their press and active zone and how relentless they were on their offensive end.
But the Sycamores (15-13) could not stop Morehead State (21-8) from proving it to them in the flesh.
“We felt like we had a good gameplan going in with their zone, but we weren’t aggressive early on and got outworked. We gave up too many offensive rebounds  and had too many turnovers ,” said ISU guard Jordan Printy, who had 12 points.
Among the most frustrating things for the Sycamores was that they did do several things well. Dwayne Lathan scored 25 points and had 11 rebounds, a season-high in points and a career-high for rebounds for the junior. Lathan also had four steals and was the catalyst in some of the runs ISU repeatedly found itself forced to do to play catch-up.
“My teammates help me everyday. I’ve been struggling a lot, so I’m playing for me. They push me and I push them. We stick together, so it feels good to play well for them. I’m happy I gave them something back,” Lathan said.
ISU outrebounded Morehead State 32-30 — the Eagles came into the game averaging nine more rebounds per game than their opponents — and also limited the damage from NBA prospect Kenneth Faried as best it could.
Faried scored 17 points and had 12 rebounds. He equaled his season scoring average, but was three below his season rebounding average as ISU’s Myles Walker battled Faried gamely in the paint.
Faried did set the post-1973 career rebounding mark (see related story) with 16:49 left in the second half on an offensive rebound as he passed the old mark of 1,564 set by Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan in 1997. Coming into the game, Faried needed seven rebounds to set the record and now has 1,576 career boards.
Despite some of the good things it did, ISU could never get over the hump. After Morehead State pulled out to a 23-11 lead midway through the first half, ISU made several runs at the Eagles, but never took the lead, and the Sycamore waves crested as the Eagles found a way to regain momentum.
“Everything we do in our program is predicated on toughness. They made runs, the crowd got behind them, but everytime they did, we answered the bell,” Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall said.
Lansing said that Morehead State’s ability to counter-punch on ISU’s home floor was indicative of the lack of toughness he lamented.
“When we would get a stop, they’d get an offensive rebound or a loose ball. We’d come down and have a poor possession and they’d come up with the loose ball. Those extra-effort plays? They made several more than we did,” Lansing said.
The pattern began late in the first half. ISU trailed 23-11, but a Lathan and Aaron Carter-fueled 10-0 run knocked the deficit down to two. But Morehead State responded and led by five at the break.
After halftime, the Eagles took a 35-26 lead, only to have ISU roar back with a 10-2 run to get within a point. Morehead State responded with five consecutive points to restore their cushion.
ISU tied the game at 46 on a Lathan layup with 10:29 left, but the Eagles answered again with a 14-6 rally to take a 60-52 lead with five minutes to go in the game.
ISU had one last rally in it in the final minute. Down 69-63 with 35 seconds left, Lathan stole the ball and scored with :26.1 remaining to cut the Sycamores’ deficit to four. Jake Odum appeared to steal the ensuing inbounds pass, but was upended by a Morehead State player who was also trying to get the ball, and no call was made as Odum lost possession in mid-air.
Lansing was incensed with the call and the leeway the Eagles were given to aggressively defend ISU’s ballhandlers. The Eagles also shot one free throw in the first half and 28 in the second half.
“The more aggressive team gets awarded by the officials. We preach that to our guys. I know they outworked us. They made more 50/50 plays,” Lansing said.
Odum and Lathan both suffered what were deemed to be minor injuries. Odum bruised his left calf muscle early in the first half. He played on, but did so in pain, and Lansing thought it might have affected Odum as he had five turnovers. Lathan bruised his arm in a tangle with Faried for a rebound just before halftime.
ISU next plays at Northern Iowa on Tuesday — a game that will determine third place in the Missouri Valley Conference.