Indianapolis, IN. – IUPUI has depended on their home court during Jason Gardner’s tenure. They have won over 60 percent of their home games and just 25 percent of their road games. Wednesday night they hosted Southern Illinois – Edwardsville, a one-loss team that has shot better than 40 percent from the floor just once this season. The Jaguars could not solve their recent defensive issues though and allowed the Cougars to shoot over 70 percent for the first 30 minutes and deliver the Jaguars an 82-81 loss.
The Jaguars didn’t dig themselves a hole in the first half like they did in the previous two games, but the defense was still a problem. The Cougars shot 64 percent in the first half and were over 70 percent midway through the second. They shot 11-for-16 from the three-point line and on the rare occasion they missed they got the rebound. The Cougars rebounded half of their missed shots and IUPUI finished with a season-low 14 defensive rebounds.
A big reason IUPUI didn’t fall behind early was their ball movement. For the game, they finished with a season-high 21 assists on 30 baskets. The biggest benefactor of that was Aaron Brennan who scored 18 of his game-high 25 points in the first half. He also finished with five rebounds, four assists three blocks and two steals with just one turnover.
While the game remained tight during the first half, SIUE exploded early in the second. They hit three 3-pointers in the first three minutes and opened up a 63-53 lead with 13:01 to go. IUPUI fought back though and the game remained tight the rest of the way. Leading 78-77, IUPUI gave up a 3-pointer before turning the ball over on the next possession and giving SIUE a layup for a four-point lead. Brennan answered immediately with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one. With under a minute left SIUE had the ball, but Ron Patterson came up with back-to-back blocks before Brennan got the rebound and the team called timeout. Out of the timeout, Jaylen Minnett sprung free in the left corner for an open three, but it rimmed out.
Still, with 10 seconds left and down one, IUPUI had a chance. They fouled Bill Awet on the inbound and he missed his first free throw. Christian Ellis got the offensive rebound and IUPUI fouled again, still with four seconds to go. Ellis missed both free throws and T.J. Henderson got the rebound. Instead of calling timeout and drawing up a play, IUPUI was left to frantically run up court to look for a shot. They got the ball to Rogers, but he wasn’t able to get a shot off in time.
It’s hard to argue this wasn’t the most disappointing loss of the season. IUPUI let a 1-6 team come into their building, shoot a season-high 57 percent and come out with a win. Their best player and leading scorer, Jalen Henry, fouled out with over three minutes left and still IUPUI couldn’t take advantage. As much as any non-conference game can be, this was a must win. With the three-game road gauntlet coming up at Purdue, at Washington State and at Gonzaga, IUPUI needed this win to avoid a very likely six-game slide and maintain their clean home record.
After the game, Gardner was in apparent agreement, although he wouldn’t say it. The most Gardner could muster was that they “just couldn’t get that stop.”, a phrase he used about a dozen times in response to multiple questions. Maurice Kirby said that the defense’s goal is to get three straight stops. If they can do that seven times in a game, they’re winning that game. The problem is, during their three game losing streak, they haven’t been able to get any stops, let alone three-straight seven times.