Six days. Six (and three-quarter) halves of unbelievable basketball.
Indiana State’s men’s basketball team had one of its most exciting weeks in recent memory. It started with Carl Richard’s buzzer-beating flip-in against Creighton in a 61-59 victory on Jan. 16, the meat of the sandwich was a Jake Kelly game-winning three-point play to take down first-place Missouri State 70-69 on Wednesday, and the final chapter was an amazing triple overtime 93-83 loss at Wichita State on Saturday.
ISU emerged from the week that was with a 7-2 Missouri Valley Conference record and a tie for second place in the MVC.
But it has much more than that. Remember, going into the week, ISU was 5-1, but had more questions associated with it than answers.
Could ISU beat a quality MVC team? Northern Iowa was the only one ISU had beaten to that point and it was becoming evident that the Sycamores caught the Panthers at just the right time. Could ISU survive a gauntlet that included Creighton, Missouri State and Wichita State? Could ISU prove that it was worthy of league-wide respect?
On all counts, the Sycamores answered the questions that surrounded them positively. Even in the 93-83 triple-overtime loss to Wichita State, ISU showed it would not wilt against the league’s preseason favorite in front of its rowdy fans.
Respect has been gained. Other questions that have been perennial ones for this program — Can ISU avoid the play-in round at the MVC Tournament? Can it enjoy a winning season? — are not issues at present. ISU needs just four wins to earn a winning record and it enjoys a significant gap between its second-place spot and seventh place.
It’s an amazing transformation, especially considering that the questions were much more numerous and serious after ISU lost at Evansville on Jan. 1.
ISU still has a long way to go. The road schedule is brutal. ISU still has to play at Creighton, Missouri State and Northern Iowa. The Sycamores also play at Southern Illinois and Illinois State, neither an easy place to win by any stretch.
ISU still has to learn to defend without fouling. It still needs to cut down on its turnovers. It isn’t a complete product.
But the questions are now much fewer than they were on Jan. 16. Now the main question the Sycamores have to answer is whether they can stay in contention and win the Missouri Valley Conference?
And that’s a nice question to have.
n WSU’s Marshall bestows praise on Odum — Because of extreme deadline pressure (triple-overtime games in a time zone behind are a writer’s worst nightmare), I wasn’t able to talk to as many of the cast and characters from ISU’s triple-overtime loss as I would normally have liked for Sunday’s paper.
But I did get to briefly talk to Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, who was gracious enough to give me a one-on-one interview (I missed his press conference to talk to ISU players) to accommodate my approaching deadline on Saturday.
The winning coach in a triple-overtime game always bestows praise on the team that was beaten, and Marshall was no different.
But he saved special mention for ISU redshirt freshman point guard Jake Odum, who was at his best with an 11-point, eight-assist, eight-rebound performance in a high-pressure environment.
“I love him. I love him as a player, I love him as a competitor. I love his flair,” Marshall said.
“I’m not looking forward to competing against him for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s a tremendous player. He’s a great get for them. It’s a great thing for [ISU coach] Greg [Lansing] to have a point guard so young, and they’ll grow together. Their union is so positive for them and their program,” Marshall said.
Odum’s evolution as one of the MVC’s top point guards might very well be the most compelling thing I’ve watched in my seven years on the beat. He’s been outstanding.
n Will the bandwagon keep rolling? — I never got the occasion to comment on the crowd ISU drew for its home game against Missouri State last Wednesday.
Attendance was over 7,000 and more than 2,100 students showed up. That’s a major step forward, especially for the students, who have treated ISU athletics like a leper for what seems like eternity.
The turnout was great, but you know what? It’s easy to generate interest when first place is on the line. In fact, it’s pretty much the biggest no-brainer there is to show up when things are rolling and the top team in the conference comes to town.
ISU plays host to Evansville on Wednesday. Will there be 7,000 in the house again? Will 2,000 students show up?
You see, games like the Evansville matchup, which isn’t nearly as enticing as the Missouri State game was, are when the fanbase gets tested for what it is really like.
Evansville isn’t the first-place team, and the top spot in the conference isn’t directly on the line. It’s not as easy to sell to a casual fan.
But at the same time, it’s not as if ISU needs the home-court advantage the fans can bring to them any less than it did against Missouri State.
Fans need to show up for all of the games, not just the sexy matchups.
So will the bandwagon keep rolling? We’ll see.