Indiana State’s men’s basketball team lived on the razor’s edge between euphoria and crushing disappointment throughout the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
An overtime victory over Mississippi last Saturday and a close loss to No. 18 San Diego State on Sunday saw the coin flip both ways for the Sycamores in their first two games.
A loss to Miami in Tuesday’s third-place game would’ve been hard to bear. Had ISU lost in regulation or overtime it would’ve had a long flight back to mainland to think about how poor shooting and the inability to get stops kept them from a near-miss victory.
Instead of that, the Sycamores made sure they could enjoy the spoils of a successful trip to Hawaii after a riveting 57-55 overtime victory over Miami.
“It would’ve been gut-wrenching to lose that game. We fought so hard and the guys gave everything they had. We really competed hard,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
The bounty of ISU’s two wins in Hawaii over BCS conference teams is considerable. ISU’s RPI vaulted to the 50th spot as of late Tuesday with victories over Miami (ACC) and Mississippi (SEC). It had been in the 100s prior to the Hawaiian trip.
It was ISU’s first win over a current Atlantic Coast Conference team since it beat Virginia Tech in the 1979 NCAA Tournament.
“It’s something to feel good about and grow on. It’s something to get us ready for conference season because it’s going to be tough,” said ISU’s R.J. Mahurin, who co-led ISU with 13 points in the victory.
Jake Odum’s leaner in the lane with 0.8 left in overtime sealed the deal for the 7-4 Sycamores. Odum has made a career out of hitting clutch jumpers and leaners from just inside the 3-point arc, particularly on the left elbow.
Odum dribbled at the timeline and waited to make his move on Miami’s Trey McKinney Jones at the five-second mark.
Odum fooled McKinney Jones with an up-and-under move and leaned in for the dagger shot that banked off the glass and went in.
Odum said after the game that the call made for him was the same one made in ISU’s overtime victory over Evansville in the 2011 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. That win propelled the Sycamores into the NCAA Tournament.
“We had a slip ball-screen with R.J. with R.J. hedging hard on the ball screen. It gave me a driving lane. Coach Lansing gives me confidence when he tells me to go make a play. It’s great to get the win,” Odum said.
It was never easy for the Sycamores. Miami’s Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble were unstoppable at times in the paint, especially in the first half.
ISU also shot just 27 percent from the field. So far, it is the lowest shooting percentage for any winning team in Division I this season.
Adding to the degree of difficulty, ISU big man Justin Gant was elbowed in the mouth by Kadji with 8:15 left in the second half. Half of Gant’s upper front tooth went flying into the lane and Gant went down in pain. Kadji was called for a flagrant foul.
Gant’s tooth was broken in half and he did not return to action, though Lansing indicated after the game that Gant said he’d play if needed.
So how did ISU do it? With defense, a renewed purpose with rebounds in the paint and some key shots at key junctures late in the game.
ISU’s perimeter defense was stout all game long. The Hurricanes were 0-of-15 from 3-point range. Miami shot 33.8 percent from the field overall. Shane Larkin, Miami’s leading scorer and a 48.2 percent 3-point shooter, was held to four points and was 0-for-5 from 3-point range.
“All three games we played [in Hawaii], we played good defense. It’s what’s going to carry us in the conference. It gives us extra possessions,” said ISU guard Devonte Brown, who had nine points, five rebounds and helped guard Larkin.
Odum thought Brown was the catalyst for ISU’s win.
“Devonte was really our MVP of the game today. He kind of cut the head off the snake with Larkin. Without him, we wouldn’t have been there. He stepped it up for us,” Odum said.
ISU also hit its free throws, converting 17 of 18. Miami was 11 of 21 at the line. And despite the occasional dominance of Miami’s inside duo, the Sycamores were only outrebounded 47-46.
“We had to grind them. It was the motto of the tournament. I think we grew up a lot when we were here,” Mahurin said.
The game turned after the 8:38 mark in the second half, when Miami’s lead peaked at 39-30. To that point, ISU had been able to stay within range of the Hurricanes, only to fall into a frustrating pattern in which it couldn’t match a stop with a key bucket. ISU shot just 22.2 percent in the second half.
It was Brown who gave ISU a lift. He scored seven points in a three-minute span to help ISU close the gap to 43-40. The next contributor off the bench was Lucas Eitel, who hit a 3-pointer at 1:53 to make it 47-45.
In the final minute of regulation, Rion Brown missed two free throws with 32.5 left to give ISU a chance down two. Arop missed a three, but Mahurin got the offensive rebound and was fouled on a putback with 16.9 left. He made both free throws to tie the game.
“I was crashing [the boards], but I saw Khristian [Smith], I saw his eyes and he kind of tipped it to me. I caught it and stepped up and made some big free throws,” Mahurin said.
Larkin missed a runner with 0.8 seconds left and the game went to overtime tied at 49.
After Manny Arop tied it with 1:03 left with a pair of free throws, ISU got a key stop when Smith and Eitel defended and Kadji and forced him to miss with 30 seconds left. Smith did the heavy-lifting and partially blocked Kadji’s shot, which hit the side of the backboard. Eitel harried Kadji from the other side.
“I tried to push him as far away from the post as possible. I knew he’d try to back me down and go for a jump-hook. Luckily, he got himself behind the rim and I got a piece of the ball,” Smith said.
That set up Odum to hit the game-winner and sent ISU home from Hawaii happy.
“Twenty-seven percent shooting? Justin [Gant] going out? Going down 47-40? It’s just an unbelievable, gutsy effort by the guys,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said. “You can’t let poor shooting and bad offense affect your defense. And we didn’t. They fought like crazy for every rebound and every loose ball. It was a tremendous effort.”
ISU begins Missouri Valley Conference play on Sunday as it plays host to Illinois State.
INDIANA STATE (57) — Arop 4-16 3-3 13, Gant 1-6 0-0 2, Cummings 1-5 0-0 3, Odum 2-7 4-4 9, Mahurin 3-7 6-6 13, Kitchell 1-2 0-0 2, Eitel 1-5 1-2 4, D. Brown 3-6 3-3 9, K. Smith 1-9 0-0 2. 17-63 FG, 17-18 FT, 57 TP.
MIAMI (55) — Larkin 2-13 0-0 4, Scott 4-13 4-5 12, Jones 2-6 2-2 6, Kadji 5-16 3-6 13, Gamble 5-9 1-5 11, Akpejiori 1-2 0-0 2, R. Brown 3-6 1-3 7, Jekiri 0-0 0-0 0. 22-65 FG, 11-21 FT, 55 TP.
Halftime score — UM 23-21. End of regulation — 49-49. 3-point goals — ISU 6-25 (Arop 2-7, Eitel 1-5, Mahurin 1-4, Cummings 1-4, Odum 1-1, K. Smith 0-2, Gant 0-1, D. Brown 0-1), UM 0-15 (Larkin 0-5, Scott 0-3, Jones 0-3, R. Brown 0-3, Kadji 0-1). Rebounds — ISU 46 (K. Smith 11, Team 7, Odum 6, Mahurin 5, Kitchell 5, D. Brown 5, Gant 3, Arop 2, Cummings, Eitel), UM 47 (Jones 11, Gamble 9, Kadji 7, Scott 6, Team 5, Larkin 4, Akpejiori 3, R. Brown 2), Assists — ISU 8 (Odum 6, Arop, Eitel), UM 7 (Larkin 4, Jones 2, Scott), Steals — ISU 4 (Arop, Odum, Eitel, K. Smith), UM 4 (Scott 2, Larkin, Jones), Blocks — ISU 3 (Odum 2, Kitchell), UM 4 (Scott 2, Larkin, Jones), Turnovers — ISU 10 (Odum 5, Arop, Eitel, D. Brown, K. Smith), UM 8 (Jones 4, Larkin, Kadji, Akpejiori, R. Brown), Total fouls — ISU 15, UM 16. Fouled out — Gamble. A — n/a.
Next – ISU (7-4) plays host to Illinois State on Sunday. Miami (8-3) plays host to LaSalle on Jan. 2.
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