Friday night in the Jungle wasn’t rumbling with roaring students and fans—but the Jags silently rumbled to their fifth straight with a win over Summit League conference opponent Western Illinois 78-55.
After the first half, observers may have had some worries about IUPUI(7-8, 1-2) sealing a victory as WIU(6-5, 1-2) stayed within four at the close of the half, 40-36. As a matter of fact, they stayed tight with Jags for the entire first period. Senior Stephen Thomas scored the first bucket for the Jags with an aggressive drive to the basket. Thomas banked the shot in off the glass and got the foul, converting the drive into a three point play taking the score 3-2. The one point lead would be the last until the later portion of the half. WIU went on a 6-0 run giving the Leathernecks an early 8-3 lead. Thomas again stepped up again with a shot from behind the arc. After a WIU jumper, Summit League Player of the Week Alex Young found his way from trey land too. The lefty finished with 15 points and climbed his way to number three on the all-time scoring list for IUPUI.
“I’m very proud of him (Young),” said Coach Todd Howard. He has made the most of his opportunity here and there is still more to come for sure.”
Young got his recognition, but Thomas was the man of the night. The senior scored 14 points in the first half and lead all scorers on the night with 18 points. His second three pointer of the night tied the game for the first time at 14. He connected on the three again giving him a quick 12 points in the first ten minutes of the game and took the Jags up 17-16.
“Steve leads us. I thought we were clicking on all cylinders offensively and that was key to him. He pushed the transition and at the same time he looked for his own opportunities too and took advantage of it,” said Howard.
After WIU’s Terell Parks found his way in the lane against Christian Siakam key baskets were from Mitchell Patton, who finished the half with six points and a clean baseline trey from Young advancing the Jags to 28-24. Patton and Mitchell finished the game with 10 points and 6 points, respectively.
Ian Chiles continued his success, scoring three of his first half six points in the last two minutes helping close the half. The offensive battle and solid defense from both teams showed a win would be difficult.
But in the second half, the Jags put any and all worries to rest by swelling the winning tally to 18 points. At the sound of the whistle Chiles, who wins the unofficial award for highest vertical jump, went hostile on WIU defense. His athleticism reigned superior as the Kentucky sophomore scored IUPUI’s first seven points of the half. His athletic teammate Young raced down the court on a fast break matching himself against three Leathernecks and connected on the fancy lay in.
After Chiles misfired on a three pointer, Patton’s tip in from the miss put the Jags on a 14-2 run with the score 54-38. Patton’s tip was also just a small portion of the 18 points that came from second chance possessions.
IUPUI came into the game 0-2 in the conference, but was determined to make a mark as a legitimate conference contender. WIU didn’t wither away and cut the large deficit with a 9-0 capped off by a three pointer from senior guard Ceola Clark III cutting the score to 62-53.
The Jags called their first timeout of the half after the Leathernecks run, but sealed the deal in the last two minutes. Lyonell Gaines had a key offensive rebound and score. The freshman started on the night and all five of his rebounds game on the offensive side of the court. With a 67-59 lead at 1:17, time was on IUPUI’s side. To keep them in the game, WIU resorted to fouling and hoping to get extra possessions on missed free throws, but the Jags showed why they are ranked seventh in the nation as a team in free throw shooting. The Jags finished 70 percent from the charity stripe.
“We have so many guys that can go in for five different positions and that’s unique and makes us even deeper even though you’re only playing eight or nine. Our depth continues to be strength and we just want to work on finishing games,” said Howard.
The six game home stretch ends on Tuesday as the Jags face UMKC at 7 p.m. in the Jungle.