TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Indiana State finally turned the corner with a win against No. 16 Butler four days ago.
But on Sunday a different ISU team showed up, and it was evident early. The Sycamores took a step backward as they fell to Western Kentucky 77-59 at the Hulman Center. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak.
The victory over the Bulldogs was ISU’s first over a ranked opponent since a win at Notre Dame in 2013-14. It was also the first time the Sycamores beat a ranked team at home since 2012-13, when they defeated Creighton.
For WKU, it was the Hilltoppers’ first win on the road this season, and snapped a four-game losing streak.
“It was big time because we really needed that,” said WKU guard Pancake Thomas said. “We hadn’t had a road win yet, so we really needed it.”
It was an overall disaster for ISU, but the Sycamores managed to stay within striking distance until the final three minutes when WKU went on a 16-2 run to put the game out of hand.
The Sycamore defense just had no answer for the Hilltopper offense, allowing WKU to shoot 53 percent overall from the field and 57 percent from the three-point line.
On the other side, ISU had no offensive momentum or energy. On several occasions — four to be exact — the Sycamores were able to cut WKU’s lead to within two points, but the Hilltoppers had an answer for each run ISU threw at them. Brenton Scott led the way with 17 points, but it took him 19 shots to get there. The senior guard was frustrated throughout the second half, receiving a technical foul toward the beginning of the half after complaining to the official about a no-call on a potential foul.
With WKU leading 54-52 with 8:04 left, a three by Thomas began a 13-0 run that put ISU out of reach for good. During the run, the Sycamores missed four three’s and an opportunity to convert off a one-and-one.
Greg Lansing was disappointed with his team’s effort, especially coming off a big win.
“The biggest thing that bothers me is I don’t think we played hard. That is, for sure, unacceptable,” Lansing said.
Matt Van Scyoc scored a career-high 23 points and made six three-pointers in ISU’s win against Butler, but the senior was nowhere to be found against WKU. Van Scyoc was held just one point on 0-for-3 shooting. The senior missed his only three-point attempt.
Brandon Murphy provided a spark off the bench for ISU, which was needed because starting center TJ Bell (four points in 13 minutes) struggled all game long. Murphy scored 11 points in 23 minutes of action.
WKU took advantage of ISU’s apparent hangover.
“We did not make it hard on them. They did whatever they wanted to do for the majority of the time. They completely controlled the tempo when they got up a little bit. We didn’t fight them, and towards the end of possessions, we’d foul. That’s false effort. It’s not competing, it’s not fighting,” Lansing said.
Thomas — one of four WKU players in double figures — was the star, scoring a game-high 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting as the Sycamores struggled to defend him coming off screens throughout the game.
“We’re very disappointed. Obviously, we didn’t prepare well enough as a team. We have to come out with more energy and play better defense,” ISU forward Niels Bunschoten said.
Murphy thought the Hilltoppers simply out-hustled the Sycamores.
“I commend Western Kentucky for their game-plan,” he said. “Pancake Thomas hit a bunch of tough shots, so did Justin Johnson and Que Johnson. They blatantly out-hustled us, a lot, and it resulted in our loss.”
The Sycamores could not buy a basket.
After converting 10 three-pointers last week, ISU struggled to hit from distance (2-of-24). While they struggled to knock down shots, the Sycamores allowed the Hilltoppers to go 8-of-14 from three.
ISU kept throwing up three’s even though it wasn’t working. Lansing knew his players could get better shots.
“We were a little more selfish than what we’ve been. You shoot terrible, your percentages show when you don’t take good shots,” he said.
ISU had momentum heading into Sunday’s game, but the big-win hangover got the best of Lansing’s team.
“A hangover effect is unacceptable in any team sport,” he said. “To come out and perform like that? I apologize to our fans and supporters.”