TERRE HAUTE — The postseason waiting game for Indiana State’s men’s basketball program lasted nine days and into the wee hours of Monday morning, but it ultimately ended happily for the Sycamores as they were invited to the College Basketball Invitational.
Now, however, reality hits.
The Sycamores will travel to Saint Louis tonight for ISU’s first postseason game since 2001. It only seems as if its been that long since ISU has played any game.
By the time the Sycamores step on the Chaifetz Arena floor, it will have been 11 days since they last played when ISU lost 69-65 to Illinois State on March 5 in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
By contrast, SLU played in the Atlantic 10 Tournament last Friday and has played two games since the Sycamores were eliminated in the MVC Tournament.
“You’re always concerned about [the time lag] because our season ends a week before the teams you could possibly be playing in the postseason. Saint Louis played until late last week. We’ve practiced three or four times since we’ve been back, so hopefully we’ve got some conditioning in,” ISU coach Kevin McKenna said.
Since then, the Sycamores enjoyed a truncated spring break before they returned to campus last Thursday to resume practice with the hope that their season wasn’t over.
Even though practice resumed, there was no opponent to prepare for, or even the knowledge that they’d continue playing at all, so the practices ISU had weren’t routine.
The last time ISU had a long layoff the Sycamores came out flat on their return game. Ten days after winning at Arkansas State on Nov. 29, ISU was upended at home by Ball State. It’s a scenario no one wants to repeat.
“We have to get that mentality back of playing 40 minutes,” ISU guard Rashad Reed said. “We need to make sure all of the guys are ready and prepared to play. We had a little spring break, we all went home. In the practices we’ve had since then, we’ve been trying to get our legs back.”
The CBI draw did ISU no favors. SLU (21-10) might be the best team in the CBI field. The Billikens had a good case to be included in the NIT, but were passed over in favor of fellow A-10 members Rhode Island and Dayton.
SLU finished fourth in the A-10 during the regular season; the three teams ahead of them in the A-10 (Temple, Xavier, Richmond) are all in the NCAA Tournament field. The Billikens lost to Rhode Island 63-47 to go one-and-done in the A-10 Tournament, which presumably hurt its postseason prospects.
Still, SLU coach Rick Majerus squeezed the maximum out of a team that has no upperclassmen. Sophomore guard Kwamain Mitchell averaged 16.1 points, while sophomore frontliner Willie Reed averaged 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds. Freshman Cody Ellis, an Australian, averaged 10.4 points.
SLU ranks No. 1 in the nation in 3-point field percentage defense as opponents shot just 27.6 percent from beyond the arc.
ISU found out its CBI fate late Sunday afternoon, but didn’t know its opponent until just after midnight on Monday morning, so ISU had only one true practice (Monday at SLU) to prepare for the Billikens.
“I didn’t find out who we were playing until about 12:20 or so. What are you going to do? You can’t start watching film on someone you don’t know you’re playing,” McKenna said.
SLU went 1-1 against MVC competition this season, losing to Missouri State and beating Southern Illinois.
ISU (17-14) will play without senior guard Harry Marshall, who broke his foot in the loss to Illinois State. ISU played five games without Marshall in February, so its familiar territory for the Sycamores. Senior guard Rashad Reed will slide back over into the point guard spot.
Unlike Marshall’s last injury-related absence, ISU will have swingman Dwayne Lathan. He had a career-high 27 points against Illinois State and is nearly 100 percent after recovering from a broken hand suffered in ISU’s home game against Illinois State on Feb. 3.
“I’m all right. I’m about 90 percent, I might wear the brace because of the potential of injury, but aside from that, I’m good,” Lathan said.
The winner of the game will play the winner of Wednesday’s Wisconsin-Green Bay-Akron contest next Monday. If ISU and Akron both win, the Sycamores would likely travel to Akron. If ISU and Green Bay win, it is not known where the game would be played.
The game tonight will be televised nationally on HDNet, a HD-only channel offered on some satellite and cable services.