TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Indiana State ran over Creighton on Wednesday night to quash any hopes the Bluejays had of turning the Missouri Valley title race into a runaway.
The Sycamores added No. 16 Creighton to their list of impressive victories this season by unleashing a dominating performance that ended in a 76-57 win before a season-high 8,345 at the Hulman Center.
A win would have put the Bluejays up two games on the rest of the pack with six regular-season conference games remaining. Instead, Creighton’s lead over Indiana State and Wichita State shrank to a game after a humbling performance against a bunch of juiced-up Sycamores.
“The energy we had and the energy they had, I’m not sure we’re winning that game tonight,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott, whose team dropped to 20-4 and 9-3. “We were flat, and they were outstanding.
“We had a chance to create some space between ourselves and the teams chasing us in the league. Our guys have to understand that Indiana State comes into this situation a desperate team. They were playing to either be three games out of first place or a game out of first.”
By the end Wednesday, Creighton was desperately searching for anything that would work against the Sycamores. The Bluejays, who trailed by 11 points at the half, were down by 28 with 4:36 to play.
“They were more aggressive than we were from the start,” Creighton center Will Artino said, “and kind of did whatever they wanted to do against us.”
Artino matched his career high in scoring 13 points to lead the Bluejays. No other Creighton player, including All-American Doug McDermott, finished with more than eight.
McDermott, hounded by double teams inside and unable to get free on the outside, scored eight points on 3-of-10 shooting. That’s 16 points under his average and only the second time he’s scored in single digits this season.
His season low of five points came in the second game against Alabama-Birmingham, but he sat out much of the first half of that game in foul trouble. He played 30 minutes against the Sycamores but, like his teammates, just was never able to find his rhythm.
“We tried to make it tough on him to get an easy catch,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “He’s so good in transition, and he’ll get an early post-up or they’ll pitch it back to him for a 3. We just tried to stay attached to him.
“He’s a first-team All-American, and he’s relentless. But we just tried to keep fresh bodies on him and switched up on him and did different things. The guys that were on him did an outstanding job, and our help guys were always in tune. They were always there on the catch.”
McDermott has seen just about every type of double team imaginable the past two seasons. What made Indiana State’s defensive plan so effective?
“That’s the best we’ve seen this year,” Greg McDermott said. “They were physical, they were able to contain us and keep us in front of them, and when we got it inside, their help was there in time.
“They never exposed themselves, and they were good on the backboard.”
Offensively, Indiana State did exactly what Creighton wanted to keep the Sycamores from doing: driving the ball into the teeth of the defense and getting fouls that put them on the free-throw line.
Indiana State was shooting one-and-one attempts from the line with 8:57 left in the first half and 9:51 to go in the second half. The Sycamores shot 27 free throws and made 19 — one more than Creighton attempted.
Indiana State’s Jake Odum, who led his team with 22 points and became the 35th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points, started the Sycamores on a decisive run by making four free throws. The game had been tied five times with four lead changes until Odum’s two free throws with 7:32 left put the Sycamores ahead for good at 17-16.
That started Indiana State on an 11-2 run that had them ahead 26-18 with 5:40 left in the first half. The Bluejays got back within six points on two occasions, but the Sycamores took a 35-24 lead into halftime on Manny Arop’s 3-point basket.
“We didn’t do a good job of adjusting to how the game was called, and the next thing we knew, they were in the double bonus,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “We tried to change things in the second half, but they just kept doing the same things.
“They had a good game plan all-around and they stuck to it.”
Indiana State denied Creighton any shot at a turnaround in the final 20 minutes by opening with a 13-3 surge that included a four-point play by RJ Mahurin. The opening spurt left the Sycamores ahead by 21 with 15:50 remaining, and Creighton never got closer than 17 points the rest of the way.
“We were in trouble at halftime,” Creighton guard Avery Dingman said. “It was the same feeling we had at Drake, but we were able to bounce back in that one and make it a game.
“We were never able to get into a rhythm, and it never felt like we were in control of the game. It never felt like we were making a comeback at all.”
In addition to holding Creighton to 41.7 percent field-goal shooting, Indiana State forced 13 turnovers that gave it a 19-5 edge in points off turnovers. The Sycamores didn’t have a turnover in the first 20 minutes and finished with five.
“We had some foolish turnovers,” Greg McDermott said, “and some because Indiana State made great plays.”
Mahurin and Arop supported Odum with 17 and 13 points as the Sycamores improved to 15-8 and 8-4 in the league. The win was Indiana State’s second straight over a ranked opponent: Nine days ago, the Sycamores went into Wichita State and knocked off the then-No. 15 Shockers.
Indiana State also has posted impressive wins over Miami, the Atlantic Coast Conference leader, and Mississippi. Because of those wins, Wednesday’s celebration after knocking off the highest-ranked team to visit the Hulman Center since 1985 was relatively subdued among the players.
“I’ve always believed that you should act like you’ve been there before,” Odum said. “Creighton is a good team, but we believed going into the game that we could beat them. We know that if we execute our plan that we can beat anybody.”
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