TERRE HAUTE —
In a season that was anticipated with so much promise, Indiana State’s men’s basketball team saved one of its worst disappointments for last.
Leading by 10 with just over 12 minutes left in its CollegeInsider.com Tournament game against Robert Morris, the Colonials finished the game on a 32-14 run and blew past the gobsmacked Sycamores for a 67-60 victory.
Lack of toughness – a trait that ultimately defined the Sycamores’ 18-15 season – was once again the culprit as the Sycamores met a sickening demise in front of 2,113 at Hulman Center.
“Unfortunately, [toughness] is a part of it. What did we get up? Twelve? I thought we were the tougher team in the first half, but in the second half, they outtoughed us,” ISU forward R.J. Mahurin said. “We all tried to put our finger on [how to maintain toughness], it just didn’t happen.”
ISU was picked third in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll and thought to be a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender entering the season.
But those dreams of success proved to be illusory. ISU finished eighth in the MVC and only rarely showed glimpses of the potential expected of them. A home loss to the third-place team in the unheralded Northeast Conference was a bitter cherry on a sundae of disappointment.
“There’s a lot of lessons to learn about being tough,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said. “Last year, we were a tough team. We were a competitive team that didn’t make mental mistakes and we always fought basically harder than the other team. We just didn’t do that this year. It’s my fault.”
The manner in which ISU met its demise was even as bitter as any of its other disappointing 2012 season defeats. Up 46-35 with 14:25 left in the game, ISU hadn’t trailed for the entirety of the game to that point and seemed in control.
All it took was three consecutive possessions ending in ISU turnovers to send the Sycamores spiraling out of control.
Steve McWhorter, Lucas Eitel and Jordan Printy turned the ball over on those possessions. And while it only directly led to four points for the Colonials, the hope Robert Morris derived from the break given it was much more important.
“I think it gave us some belief we could actually win the game. The way it played out for the first 30 minutes wasn’t in our favor. Once we started to give the right amount of effort it takes to win Division I basketball games, that was the point where it started to turn,” Robert Morris coach Andrew Toole said.
Eitel made a 3-pointer at 12:12 to put ISU up 49-39, but ISU wouldn’t score again until the 6:48 mark. In that span, Robert Morris scored 12 straight to take its first lead at 51-49.
“We didn’t handle success well, even after last year and in games we didn’t handle success well either. We do well and then get away from what got us there,” Lansing said.
When Lawrence Bridges tipped in a Velton Jones miss at 5:44 to put the Colonials up 53-51, the Sycamores would never regain the lead again.
The slow fade was excruciating from ISU’s perspective. Robert Morris didn’t push its advantage to more than a possession until the 2:22 mark.
ISU briefly had hope when Mahurin drained a 3-pointer at 1:26 to cut ISU’s deficit to 61-58. The teams traded missing the front end of one-and-one’s, but Mahurin made a pair of free throws with 39.1 seconds left to make it 61-60.
It proved to be ISU’s last stand. After Anthony Myers made a pair at the line for Robert Morris, Printy took a long, off-balance 3-pointer several feet behind the top of the key with 25 seconds left. It didn’t find the mark and Robert Morris (25-10) finished the Sycamores off at the free throw line.
ISU’s 13 of 23 free throw shooting played a significant role in their loss. So did Robert Morris’s 17 points off 11 ISU turnovers and 10 second-chance points, all but two scored in the second half.
“We pride ourselves on defense. If we could ball pressure and rebound, we thought we’d have a good chance to win the game,” Jones said.
The Colonials’ balance also came to the fore – seven different Robert Morris scored six or more points, led by Coron Williams with 11 points.
Mahurin led ISU with 17 points. A bright spot was production from freshman Justin Gant, who scored a career-high 11 points and who was 4-for-4 from the field.
None of that softened the blow of a game and a season that was well short of expectations. The focus turns to how ISU can avoid a repeat performance in the 2013 season and get tougher in the offseason.
“It’s a lot of little things. I think little things are huge things. If we have slippage in little things that you don’t want happening – in your work ethic, or your lifting or how you’re taking care of yourself outside of basketball – a lot of little things add up to big things,” Lansing said.
“They’re really good guys and everyone knows that. Our chemistry is good, but it’s not great. To win and to compete at a high level, you have to have tremendous chemistry. Ours is good, it has to be great. You have to be completely unselfish and all about your teammates,” Lansing said.
The game marked the end of the line for ISU seniors Printy, Myles Walker and Dwayne Lathan.
Carl Richard, suspended for the game, also had his ISU career come to an end. Junior Koang Doluony was not in attendance for the game and will likely not return next season.
Lansing also cited the need for improved team chemistry.
ROBERT MORRIS (67) — McFadden 3-3 0-0 6, Bridges 2-2 0-0 4, Johnson 3-10 2-2 9, V. Jones 2-11 5-7 10, Williams 4-6 0-1 11, Myers 2-4 2-2 8, Thompson 3-8 0-1 6, Herman 2-5 0-0 4, L. Jones 4-7 0-0 9. 25-56 FG, 9-13 FT, 67 TP.
INDIANA STATE (60) — Mahruin 6-9 3-4 17, Walker 2-4 2-5 6, Odum 2-6 5-6 9, Lathan 2-6 1-3 5, Printy 0-5 0-0 0, Kitchell 2-3 0-1 4, Eitel 1-2 0-0 3, Gant 4-4 2-4 11, McWhorter 2-6 0-0 5. 21-45 FG, 13-23 FT, 60 TP.
Halftime score — ISU 36-27. 3-point goals — RMU 8-22 (Williams 3-4, Myers 2-4, V. Jones 1-6, Johnson 1-5, L. Jones 1-3), ISU 5-17 (Mahurin 2-3, McWhorter 1-3, Eitel 1-2, Gant 1-1, Odum 0-3, Printy 0-3, Lathan 0-2). Rebounds — RMU 34* (Johnson 11, V. Jones 5, Team RB 5*, L. Jones 4, McFadden 4, Thompson 3, Bridges, Herman), ISU 29* (Odum 8, Mahurin 6, Walker 5, Lathan 2, Kitchell 2, Gant 2, McWhoter 2). Assists — RMU 18 (V. Jones 8, Myers 4, Johnson 3, Bridges, Thompson, L. Jones), ISU 13 (Printy 6, Lathan 2, Eitel 2, McWhorter 2, Gant). Steals — RMU 5 (Myers 2, McFadden, Bridges, L. Jones), ISU 3 (Odum 2, Mahurin). Blocks — RMU 1 (Bridges), ISU 4 (Gant 2, Odum, Kitchell). Turnovers — RMU 9 (McFadden 2, V. Jones 2, Myers 2, Bridges, Johnson, L. Jones), ISU 11 (McWhorter 3, Mahurin 2, Lathan 2, Odum, Printy, Eitel, Gant). Total fouls — RMU 20, ISU 17. Fouled out — none. A — 2,113.
Next — Robert Morris (25-10) will play an opponent to be determined in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. ISU concluded its season at 18-15.