INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been nearly a month since IUPUI won its last game. They had lost six in a row and seemed inept offensively. In their previous game, a 57-47 loss to Howard, zero IUPUI players finished in double-figures in scoring.
Despite multiple scoring droughts again Saturday afternoon and a blown double-digit lead in the second half, IUPUI finally got over the hump, outscoring South Alabama 12-6 in overtime to win 71-65.
“South Alabama did a great job,” head coach Jason Gardner said. “They made some big time plays down the stretch but I was very, very pleased with our team as far as making plays down the stretch and making stops down the stretch.”
Gardner had said some changes would need to be made after their loss a week ago to Eastern Kentucky. He stuck with the same lineup against Howard two days later but after a miserable offensive effort, he inserted Justus Stanback and D.J. McCall into the starting lineup against South Alabama. IUPUI also came out in a full-court press which they maintained for most of the first half. The changes seemed to make a difference as IUPUI never trailed in the opening half, but a scoreless six-minute stretch enabled Southern Alabama to erase a 22-15 deficit.
Previously, those runs would stretch into the second half as IUPUI continued to dig themselves deeper into a hole. This time they settled down and dug out.
“The boys kind of got together and they kind of started doing it themselves,” Gardner said. “I thought with our pressure and our length we kind of bothered them a little bit. We had some good deflections here and there which led to some easy baskets.”
After going into halftime tied 30-30, IUPUI exploded in the second half. They started out in a full-court press and forced five turnovers in the first six minutes as they built a 44-32 lead.
South Alabama answered and got the lead down to 52-45 on a three-point play from Ken Williams, but a three-pointer from D.J. McCall on the next possession put IUPUI back up 10 points with with 6:33 to play.
“(McCall) had some big time rebounds. He had a big time dunk which elevated our crowd, elevated our bench,” Gardner said. “As a freshman, you never know how they’re going to react or what they’re going to do.”
McCall and Aaron Brennan, both freshmen, played 36 and 28 minutes respectively and combined for 16 points and 11 rebounds. Despite their strong performances, it was the seniors that really came through.
South Alabama continued to climb back. Down 57-56 Taishaun Johnson stole the ball and passed to Williams on the fast break for an open 3-pointer that gave South Alabama a 59-57 lead and capped off a 14-2 run. South Alabama didn’t score again in regulation though and DavRon Williams’s basket with 2:29 left forced overtime.
Williams continued making plays in overtime. Up 61-59, he came up with a steal on the defensive end and finished off the ensuing possession with a layup giving IUPUI a 63-59 lead with 1:22 left. South Alabama missed a shot on their possession and Williams grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He knocked down both free throws to extend the lead to six points.
“DavRon probably shouldn’t have played today,” Gardner said. “His knee is banged up and he comes out and he makes a big-time winning basket. He made some big-time rebounds. He had a big-time block. That just shows his senior leadership.”
After a desperate 3-pointer from Johnson cut the lead to 66-65 with 20 seconds left, it came down to a free throw game. Mason Archie was fouled and made the first to go up by two points, but missed the second. Marcellus Barksdale saw the outlet pass the whole way though. He got a jump on it, made the steal and knocked down both free throws after getting fouled to put the game away.
“We’re just hungry,” Williams said. “We were on a not so good losing streak and everybody was just hungry. It was really just a team finish. We all stuck together through the good times and the bad times and that’s what helped us come out on top.”