Indianapolis, IN – Division I schools are supposed to beat Division II schools, but not by four points. Not at home. Not with an 11-point lead and under two minutes to go. But that’s what happened for IUPUI as they defeated Kentucky State 86-82 Saturday afternoon. Leading 83-72 after an Aaron Brennan layup with 1:53 to go, IUPUI gave up an 8-0 run, but held on thanks to a late transition layup from Jordan Pickett.
“We just came out and we’re like ‘we’re not losing,'” Pickett said. “Everybody on the team bought into their role and kept fighting our hearts out.”
Pickett’s game-clinching layup gave him 15 points in his IUPUI debut. Nick Osborne led all scorers though with 18 points and nearly got a double-double with eight rebounds. Matt O’Leary finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists and Darell Combs added 16 points. Five players scored in double-figures for Kentucky State, who was led by Dorian Jordan with 14 points.
From the beginning, the game took on the tone of a tournament game, a winner-take-all affair that would end someone’s season. Every time IUPUI scored, it begged asking if Kentucky State could keep up, and every time they answered, it made you wonder if they could pull off the upset. Twice IUPUI pushed a lead to five to points in the first half, but Kentucky State took their first lead, 20-19, with 6:27 left before the break, and led by as many as five points, up 37-32, with 1:23 left in the half.
Despite playing in Indianapolis in front of a home crowd that easily outnumbered those who traveled from Frankfort, it felt like a home game for the Thorobreds. They fed off the energy of their friends and family and played at a frenetic pace, pressing full-court almost the entire game.
The pressure seemed to die down temporarily for IUPUI after a 12-0 run spanning both halves, but as quickly as they took a 47-39 lead, Kentucky State answered again. Trailing 51-43, the Thorobreds scored 15 unanswered points including a stretch with steals on four consecutive possessions resulting in scores on each of them.
Trailing 58-51, the Jaguars fought back and played the Thorobreds even until 4:33 to go. They built a 78-70 lead with back-to-back layups from Pickett and a pair of free throws from O’Leary. Brennan’s layup with 1:53 to go pushed the lead to 83-72 and seemingly out of reach, but Kentucky State scored five points in 25 seconds to pull within six points. Marcellus Barksdale missed a pair of free throws and Tryston Ford nailed a 3-pointer to cut the lead to three.
Combs bumped IUPUI’s lead up one point with 32 seconds left when he split a pair of free throws after an altercation that resulted in two Kentucky State fouls and a technical foul called on Combs. Barksdale picked up his fifth foul though just six seconds later resulting in two Dorian Jordan free throws and just a two point lead. Thanks to a heads up play by O’Leary after a timeout, IUPUI was able to put the game away for good. Trying to break the press, Pickett got past the Kentucky State defenders and ran down the court as O’Leary launched the ball. Pickett made the easy layup to seal it.
“I think sometimes, just with the pressure, we wanted to go a little bit one-on-one too many times,” Gardner said. “In the second half, we talked about just moving the ball, pace, and play with a little more energy.”
While not a major adjustment and not any sort of strategic change, it made all the difference for IUPUI who shot 17-for-27 (63 percent) in the second half and got to the line 19 times. O’Leary, in particular, was able to move the ball well. His seven assists were a team high and the most for any IUPUI player this season.
The good news for the Jaguars is that they protected their home court and returned to a .500 record after dropping two straight on the road. The bad news is that they’re headed right back out for four straight road games beginning with Kennesaw State Monday night at 6:30 pm.