Indianapolis, IN – Leading by one point with 15.5 seconds left, IUPUI needed just one defensive stop to win the game. After the inbound, Garret Covington received a pass at the top of the arc and drove towards the right side of the basket. Mason Archie and Matt O’Leary trapped him as he got to the right block though and forced a travel. Archie knocked down one of two free throws with 1.1 second left and Western Illinois couldn’t get up a final shot. The 69-67 win moves IUPUI into a four-way tie for first place in the Summit League.
Along with the final stop, O’Leary also posted his first career double-double with a career high in points (20) and rebounds (10). He finished the game 9-for-9 from the floor and also dished out three assists. Darell Combs wasn’t far behind with 18 points and four assists, although he shot just 7-for-13 from the free-throw line. Covington finished with 23 points for Western Illinois and went 4-for-6 from three-point range.
Western Illinois came into Friday afternoon’s game winless in conference and just 2-7 on the road while IUPUI had played just one game in the last 13 days. After Western Illinois fell behind by 13 points with 1:36 left in the first half, it looked like this would be an easy one for IUPUI, especially given the lead up to Friday’s game, but Covington knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers and closed the half with a layup with eight seconds left cutting IUPUI’s lead down to five, 36-31. Another 3-pointer from Covington on their first possession in the second half followed up by a Jabari Sandifer 3-pointer on the next possession gave Western Illinois their first lead since the first five minutes of the game. Their 14-0 run spanning both halves took just 2:47 of game time.
“[Convington’s] their big shot maker,” IUPUI head coach Jason Gardner said. “He did that tonight. He kept them in the game with some big shots. I think the only thing you can do with a guy like that is make sure he takes tough contested shots with a hand in his face and just try to make it hard on him.”
IUPUI retook the lead two minutes later, but couldn’t extend it like they did in the first half. After an O’Leary layup and foul with 11:12 to go that put IUPUI up 55-51, they went cold. O’Leary failed to convert the three-point play and missed another free throw two possessions later. Over a five-minute stretch IUPUI missed all four of their free throw attempts, shot 0-for-5 from the field and turned the ball over three times. By the 6:23 mark Western Illinois was up 59-55.
IUPUI answered with a nine-point run beginning with a three-point play from Aaron Brennan. After a pair of free throws from Combs, O’Leary made a 3-pointer for a 63-59 lead. Combs was fouled again on the next possession and made 1-of-2 for a five-point lead.
Covington cut the lead down to one point with 90 seconds to go, but Barksdale came up with a huge play late for the second game in a row. With just over a minute left, he drove towards the basket from the left side and missed a floater in the paint, but grabbed the rebound and laid it in from the right side to put IUPUI back up three, 68-65. Sandifer made two free throws on the other end and IUPUI came up empty leading to Western Illinois’s timeout with 15.5 seconds left and IUPUI up 68-67.
Thanks to IUPUI’s late defensive stop, they’re now in a four-way tie for first place in the Summit League with a 6-2 conference record. The win was also their third straight and puts them just three games under .500.
“We’re definitely, as a team, a lot more confident.” IUPUI forward Matt O’Leary said. “We’re tied for first. We knew that we could do this. This was our goal, to be number one.”
IUPUI won’t have the rest they’ve become accustomed to the last few weeks in preparing for their next game, and they’re also unsure whether freshman forward Evan Hall will return from injury before their next game Sunday. Hall missed Friday’s game and Brennan started in his place. Since Osborne’s concussion earlier in the season, Hall has been the starter, but Gardner decided to give Brennan the start and keep Osborne coming off the bench as an energy guy rather than return to the lineup from earlier in the season.
IUPUI will host North Dakota State Sunday at 1:00 p.m. A win in that game and some help in a few others would give IUPUI sole possession of first place in the Summit League by Sunday night.