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Belmont comes to town to play ISU in first-place MVC duel

Jan. 12—The stat crew at the scorers' table could get a workout Saturday afternoon in Hulman Center.

Indiana State and Belmont will play a 2 p.m. game Saturday in a duel of the Missouri Valley Conference's two highest-scoring men's basketball teams. In fact, the Sycamores rank 11th among 360 NCAA Division I teams in points per game at 85.9. ISU's scoring average would rate as the 10th best in MVC history, if the Sycamores finish at that pace.

The Bruins are pretty prolific too, averaging 79.4 points per outing.

More importantly, ISU (13-3 overall) and Belmont (11-5) are tied for first place in the MVC at 4-1, along with Drake, Southern Illinois and Murray State. Drake plays at SIU on Saturday, so at least two current frontrunners will drop into second place over the weekend. Murray State plays host to Northern Iowa on Sunday.

Still, scoring averages and temporary league hierarchy probably aren't weighing heaviest on the minds of ISU coach Josh Schertz and his players. They're focused on erasing the sting from getting steamrolled by Drake in the second half of Wednesday night's 89-78 loss at Des Moines.

With just under 10 minutes to play, the Sycamores trailed just 61-60. That's when Drake revved up, unleashing 28 points in a mere 12 possessions, raining in four 3-pointers and adding a three-point play.

Bulldog forwards Tucker DeVries and hefty Darnell Brodie out-muscled and out-finessed the Sycamores in those minutes. Their teammates joined. Their crowd roared.

The game turned around fast.

Not coincidentally, the Bulldogs were coming off a humbling 87-65 drubbing at the hands of, yes, Belmont. And that's who the Sycamores play Saturday.

"Offensively, we couldn't break them down at all," Schertz said of Drake's defense. "We couldn't get the ball in the paint. We were very stagnant offensively. You can't win like that against a good team."

His Sycamores got "manhandled," Schertz said. "That was ultimately the difference in the game."

ISU shot the ball 51 times and hit 22 (43.1%), but Drake launched 64 shots and sank 30 of them (46.9%).

"That's the game right there. It's an 11-point game and you let them get 13 more shots. It's simple mathematics," Schertz said after Wednesday's loss.

Ironically, it's the Sycamores who lead the nation in effective field-goal percentage. That's a statistic that takes into account the obvious — that 3-point field goals yield three points and 2-pointers two points. ISU hit 11 3s, while Drake hit 10.

There were other problems, though. The Sycamores committed 15 turnovers, while Drake gave the ball away just three times.

"We couldn't turn them over, but we turned it over a ton," Schertz said. "We gave them 18 points on turnovers."

The Sycamores had five double-figure scorers against Drake, led by Robbie Avila and Ryan Conwell with 17 points each. They also outrebounded Drake 35-39.

But the scoreboard gets the final say.

"Just a really disappointing and very poor performance all the way around for us on both ends of the floor," Schertz said.

ISU will try to amend the glitches and get its groove back against a Bruins team that has won three of its last four games. They're led by 6-foot-9, 240-pound sophomore forward Malik Dia. He's averaging 18 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Dia had 32 points and seven rebounds in Belmont's win over Drake on Sunday. Dia had 17 points and six rebounds in Belmont's 67-60 win over Illinois State on Wednesday.

Drake lost to Belmont, then beat ISU. Schertz pointed to that turnaround, in relation to Saturday's task.

"It's the same thing Drake did — you've got to respond," Schertz said Wednesday.

"We got our butts kicked today. [The Bulldogs] got their butts kicked on [Sunday]. They came back, responded [and] played probably their best game of the season today. [Drake] turned it over 16, 17 times on [Sunday]. They turned it over three [times] tonight."

ISU will work to reduce the turnovers and confront the offensive efforts of Dia and his Belmont teammates.

"We've got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot," Schertz said.

"Offensively, we've got to take better care of the ball. We've got to play with more force. Defensively, we've got to be so much better. Our post [defense] was horrendous. We had breakdowns on ball-screen coverage. We had breakdowns in blitzes. It's both ends and we've got to be much better."

Last season, Belmont dealt ISU an 89-88 defeat in Nashville, Tenn.

"It doesn't get any easier. Saturday, we've got Belmont, Tuesday, it's Missouri State," Schertz said.

"This league challenges you every step of the way and you've got to be ready to meet those challenges. We have to play much, much better than we did [against Drake] to beat anybody."