TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State knew what it wanted to do against Doug McDermott and the No. 16 Creighton Bluejays on Wednesday. They were confident they had the personnel to execute it.
What they couldn’t have known, nor anyone else who watched ISU’s 76-57 destruction of Creighton was how devastatingly well they’d do it.
The Sycamores held Creighton — which averages 79 points and who leads the nation in field goal percentage — to a season-low 57 points and a 41.7 percent performance from the field.
None of Creighton's starters reached double-figure scoring.
It started in the paint … which is where All-American Doug McDermott and fearsome center Gregory Echenique normally ease into their comfort zone. It was a Twilight Zone for them against the Sycamores.
As expected, ISU played help defense to limit McDermott. But it was help defense with a punch. The junior was never got into a rhythm and was held scoreless in the second half.
ISU forward Justin Gant was the first option on McDermott. He ran out at McDermott on the perimeter and kept him from getting many clean looks from the 3-point arc, where McDermott converts at a 51-percent rate.
“We knew defense was our main focus. We wanted to bump him off the cuts and we gave him some trouble with it. I just tried to make him shoot over me and push him off the block a little farther then he liked it. I didn’t let him duck in me,” Gant said.
Once in the paint, the Sycamores converged. A combination of R.J. Mahurin, Jake Kitchell, Khristian Smith and Manny Arop all played a role in double-teaming McDermott down low. They forced him into low percentage shots and also worked the boards to keep the Bluejays from second shots.
“We knew we could do this, we just had to show it. It just happened to be against Creighton, one of the best teams in the country,” Gant said.
That same crew, particularly Gant, Kitchell and Mahurin, also kept Echenique from getting free. When ISU played in Omaha on Jan. 6, Echenique scored 16 points and kept ISU from imposing its defensive will. There was no repeat of that on Wednesday.
“They killed us there. They absolutely killed us,” Lansing said. “We wanted to protect the paint first and work [the defense] inside-out. We noticed when we played at Creighton that Kitch did the best job on Echenique. He walled him up and made him shoot over him. Kitch was outstanding tonight.”
From Kitchell’s standpoint, credit was even spread to a couple of players who rarely get a share of the spotlight.
“I think we put together a full 40,” Kitchell said. “I think it started in practice. Rhett [Smith] and T.J. [Bell] were really physical with us in practice and got us ready.”
Creighton's starting five was a combined 10 of 32 from the field. ISU also had a 32-30 rebounding edge and scored 19 points off Creighton turnovers.