Indianapolis, IN. – With a 20-point lead midway through the second half, IUPUI seemed poised to end their streak with an emphatic win. Cleveland State made a big push though and if they game went 60 seconds longer, IUPUI might not have won at all. Thanks to some timely fouls though, they were able to hold on and win 78-73.
IUPUI shot nearly 60 percent from the floor Thursday night and T.J. Henderson and Aaron Brennan were a big reason why. They combined to shoot 12-for-16 from the floor and finished with 19 and 17 points respectively. Henderson also had five assists, including two alley-oops to Elyjah Goss in the second half that helped push the lead to 20.
A 9-0 run, including 7-for-7 shooting at the line, put IUPUI up 48-32 with 15:40 to go, but the Vikings answered with a three-point basket. Henderson took the inbound pass and hustled up the court. Just before hitting the top of the arc he saw Goss streaking towards the basket and nailed the easy alley-oop. A few minutes later Henderson found Goss for another one with a short floating pass to the rim. D.J. McCall stole the ball on the other end and once again Goss went unchecked. McCall got the ball to Goss in the paint for another dunk, a 20-point lead, and a Cleveland State timeout.
As IUPUI was prone to do earlier in the season, they went cold. They wouldn’t make another shot for nearly five minutes. Thanks to some free throws, they didn’t blow their lead all at once though. Nick Rogers finally made a shot with 7:24 left to put IUPUI back up 13, 67-54. Cleveland State just kept chipping away though. A layup with 4:37 to go cut the lead to five. Another layup with 3:05 left cut the lead to four.
With under two minutes to go and IUPUI clearly reeling, Brennan stepped up with a nice low-post move and scored to extend the lead back to six. Cleveland State answered with a layup though with 57 seconds left. Despite being up four with the ball and under a minute left, it felt like IUPUI might lose this one. Then they got a little lucky. With 42 seconds left Cleveland State committed an off-ball intentional foul resulting in two free throws and the ball. They quickly blew that opportunity though. After Hall missed both free throws Ron Patterson drew a foul and missed both of his as well.
Cleveland State quickly capitalized with a layup and IUPUI had the ball up only two with under 30 seconds left. Again they got lucky. Goss received a pass as he was cutting to the rim from the right side and was fouled hard. It certainly was a hard foul, but didn’t seem excessive or malicious. Nonetheless, it was ruled a flagrant foul and confirmed after replay review. Goss knocked down only one of two free throws, but Patterson redeemed himself after drawing a foul on the next possession and hitting both free throws.
This should have been a statement from IUPUI. With a 6-2 home record and a 20-point second-half lead against the team with the worst record in Horizon League play, this should have been easy. Instead, there’s feelings of both relief and concern. Too often this season IUPUI has fallen behind early. But even when they don’t, even when they build an early lead, they take their foot off the gas and let the opponents back in. It’s often said that some teams are good at playing from ahead or from behind, but it appears IUPUI is good at neither.
For the time being though, they still ended on a win and have another home game against Youngstown State before going back on the road. They’ll host the Penguins this Saturday at 1 pm.