News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 14, 2013

ISU women embrace defense to shore up offense

Craig Pearson
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The Indiana State women’s basketball players bought into a culture of defense long before practice even started last fall.

With over half of the team’s 2011-2012 scoring deducted by the graduation of Brittany Schoen, Shannon Thomas and Deja Mattox, the Sycamores could either embrace a defensive identity or suffer through a painful season.

Coach Teri Moren added assistant coach Joey Wells to the staff to help instill a defensive philosophy.

And as good as he might be at teaching it, the players deserve credit for becoming a cohesive unit and continuing to progress as the season moved ahead. The Sycamores rank 18th in the NCAA in points allowed after consecutive wins over Creighton and Drake — a homestand last year’s team was swept on during a six-game losing streak.

“In the beginning of the season, we weren’t sure where our scoring was going to come from. [Coach Wells] was just saying if we can keep our opponent from scoring, our scoring would take care of itself,” ISU sophomore Travecia Franklin said. “We’ve worked so hard this season in trying to gut it out on the court. It makes me proud of my teammates.”

A big part of the success defensively is rebounding, where the Sycamores are leading the Missouri Valley Conference with a margin of (+4.9). That’s an area that’s been an Achilles’ heel for many finesse Sycamore teams in the past; even those that won conference titles in 2006 and 2003 were among the worst in the conference on the glass.

The Sycamores are anything but finesse now.

Senior Taylor Whitley sets the tone with rugged hustle plays, but the Sycamores have toughness all over the floor. Racheal Mahan is second in the Valley in double-doubles, and her new postmate Marina Laramie is willing to mix it up.

Junior Anna Munn, the team’s leading scorer, is praised by her teammates for being a vocal leader at the defensive end as well.

“We’re all invested as a team. We have eachother’s back. We know that if somebody gets beat backdoor then we’re going to have help on the opposite side,” said Munn, who ranks third on the team with a 4.6 rebounding average. “We just go in there with whole heart. Even the guards, we know it’s an entire team effort.”

Laramie is averaging 8.8 rebounds since being inserted into the starting lineup in place of injured Jessica Valley. The fiery redhead was slow to contribute during the nonconference after being behind in conditioning, but she’s rising to the occasion.

“Jess was averaging seven rebounds so coach [John] Marcum challenged me:  any rebound under 7 [in a game], I have to run miles for. Anything over, he has to run. I’m going to get him in training,” Laramie said after Tuesday’s practice.

Franklin is also a newcomer to the starting lineup. The 5-9 sophomore from Columbus, Ohio, has become an important piece in ISU’s quest to keep making winning plays.

Franklin had seven points, three assists and two steals against Creighton, and chipped in three steals while drawing a charge against Drake.

“Rebounding, get as many deflections as I can, basically just try to heat it up on defense,” said Franklin, who joked about the willingness to sacrifice her body. “I don’t know how much I can stay in that area. I’m a bone away from having half an arm.”

Moren loves the discipline and commitment her team plays with on the defensive end.

“We talk a lot about helping our teammates. We’re all connected. That’s elevating and being in the passing lane to deflect passes or help off penetration,” Moren said.

“I just think it’s the mentality these kids have. Our identity from the beginning has been a defensive team. That starts with getting a missed shot, but they understand the possession always ends with a check-out. It’s something they’ve naturally done. It’s always about heart and effort.”

Looking for revenge in Evansville — Indiana State (14-8, 6-5) will look to catch Evansville in the MVC standings tonight on the road.

ISU lost 55-54 to the Purple Aces (8-13, 6-4 MVC) last month in Hulman Center on a shot in the final seconds by Khristian Hart, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.

The Purple Aces’ guard had games of 26 and 28 points during January, but coach Oties Epps can still rely on the tough post trio of Mallroy Ladd, Taylor Ware and Chelsea Falkenstein.

Evansville held Mahan to a sub-par outing with 4-of-14 field-goal shooting.

“We’re looking to go in there and get them back,” Mahan said. “They’ve got two really good posts so if we play defense like we do, we should be looking to get a win.”

The Sycamore are 2-3 on the road in MVC play so far, allowing 60.8 points-per-game away from Hulman Center.

“60 points is not terribly bad, I still think I’d rather be in the 50s,” Moren said. “I think the intensity you start out a game should be the same whether you’re home or away. We’ve got a system in place and that should get the results whether we’re in Hulman Center or not.”