TERRE HAUTE —
The statistics don’t lie ... even if there’s no definitive truth in the cause, or even, in the solution.
During the nonconference part of Indiana State’s season, the Sycamore failed to shoot 33 percent or less from 3-point range just once ... its 63-62 loss to Tulsa in the Great Alaska Shootout on Nov. 27, 2013.
Since the Missouri Valley Conference season began? ISU has exceeded 33 percent just once, and that was five games ago at Evansville on Jan. 4.
ISU’s conference 3-point percentage is .312, eighth-best in the MVC. Quite a fall for a team that was ranked in the top 5 nationally not even a month ago.
Yet the Sycamores keep on winning. ISU’s 65-61 victory at Loyola on Wednesday was its 13th in 15 games. Its only losses in that stretch were to top-25 teams (Saint Louis, Wichita State) on the road. ISU (15-4, 6-1) won its seventh road game of the season, third-best in the nation.
It’s easy to forget those positives because the 3-point slump, and the impact its had on ISU’s offense, can make the Sycamores seem worse off than they are.
What’s the cause for the 3-point slump and some of the recent offensive malaise? That’s when you get into chicken-or-egg questions.
Is it because ISU is to keen to rely on 3-point shots and takes too many quick ones? Is it because ISU’s slashers aren’t penetrating the lane enough, and thus, becoming too reliant on threes? Is ISU not feeding the post enough? Are the posts not fighting enough for those touches?
Or is it just an old-fashioned slump? ISU had several open long-range looks against both Wichita State last Saturday and Loyola on Wednesday that failed to find the target.
It’s probably all of the above. It defies a simple solution when there’s not one Sycamore who’s to blame or who’s completely blameless.
“We were settling for quick early 3s again. Yes, they were open, but sometimes when the ball isn’t going in, you have to attack that paint and go to the foul line,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said Wednesday.
That’s been increasingly difficult as the MVC season has played out. Loyola kept its defenders inside the 3-point line and cut off passing and driving lanes into the paint. That would’ve been unheard of against hot-shooting ISU just a few weeks ago.
“There were no gaps. There were no driving lanes to get into. They were packing it inside the lane. They didn’t want Jake [Odum} and Manny [Arop] getting to the basket,” Lansing said.
What’s the solution? It starts with not getting impatient.
“The thing you have to with that is not get frustrated. You have to play off of it and move the ball. You have to cut through the lane and attack the basket with your cuts,” Lansing said. “Don’t settle for quick early threes. Maybe take those later in the possession. You still have to work the ball inside. Once we started driving on ball reversals and we got to the free throw line a little bit it loosened us up.”
It was ISU’s bench that did it. Khristian Smith unlocked Loyola’s defense and penetrated the lane early, a big reason he scored ISU’s first 11 points. Later, Brandon Burnett did the same and scored a career-high 10 points.
“The bench absolutely saved us. Khristian, Brandon and Kitch [Jake Kitchell, who tied a career-high with seven rebounds], when they came in, they turned the game around and got us the lead,” Lansing said.
ISU (14-5, 6-1) is still in fine shape in the MVC, but its inconsistent offense is something the Sycamores know they won’t get away with against better MVC foes, especially on the road.
“We’re plus-three. You got another road win against a good team that had a good plan. Offensively? I have to help them a little bit more. [Opponets] are jamming us up a lot. They’re not giving us the driving lanes,” Lansing said.
“We want to score. We want to play fast, but we have to be able to play at two speeds. We have to work the ball a little better and play off of people that are helping that much,” he added.
While there were no style points earned at Loyola, one player tried to look on the bright side. After all, ISU is in second place in the MVC and has a two-game cushion on Illinois State (Saturday’s opponent at Hulman Center) and Northern Iowa, it’s nearest pursuers.
“Those ugly wins ... fans don’t like them. We don’t necessarily like them, but I think it’s a toughness thing,” Kitchell said. “When it boils down to it, when the game comes down to it like it did [Wednesday], we’re a veteran group and took care of business towards the end of the game. It comes down to gutting it out and being the tougher team.”
n O’Leary — Terre Haute’s Matt O’Leary came off the bench and played just six minutes for Loyola against the Sycamores. The only shot he attempted rimmed out in the first half and he had one assist and one turnover.
INDIANA STATE (65) — Gant 3-8 1-2 7, Moore 0-0 0-0 0, Arop 0-5 0-1 0, Cummings 2-8 1-2 7, Odum 4-9 6-10 14, Kitchell 2-2 2-2 6, Eitel 0-1 0-0 0, Brown 1-3 0-0 3, Burnett 3-5 2-3 10, Smith 5-11 7-8 18. 20-52 FG, 19-28 FT, 65 TP.
LOYOLA (61) — Johnson 0-3 0-0 0, Thomas 4-7 3-6 11, Crisman 2-5 1-2 5, White 5-8 1-2 13, Doyle 6-12 4-6 20, Turk 3-8 1-1 7, O’Leary 0-1 0-0 0, Osborne 2-4 0-0 5. 22-48 FG, 10-17 FT, 61 TP.
Halftime — ISU 28-27. 3-point goals — ISU 6-24 (Cummings 2-7, Burnett 2-3, Smith 1-4, Brown 1-2, Odum 0-3, Arop 0-3, Gant 0-2); LU 7-20 (Doyle 4-9, White 2-2, Osborne 1-2, Turk 0-4, Thomas 0-1, Crisman 0-1, O’Leary 0-1). Rebounds — ISU 41 (Gant 8, Kitchell 7, Team 6, Cummings 4, Odum 4, Smith 4, Burnett 3, Brown 2); LU 28 (Osborne 7, White 6, Thomas 6, Johnson 4, Doyle 2, Team 2, Crisman). Assists — ISU 13 (Cummings 4, Brown 4, Odum 2, Smith 2, Arop); LU 10 (Doyle 4, Thomas 2, White, Turk, O’Leary, Osborne). Steals — ISU 5 (Arop 2, Cummings, Brown, Smith); LU 4 (Crisman 3, Thomas). Blocks — ISU 2 (Cummings, Smith); LU 2 (Crisman, Doyle). Turnovers — ISU 9 (Brown 3, Odum 2, Team 2, Gant, Smith); LU 10 (White 2, Doyle 2, Turk 2, O’Leary, Osborne, Johnson, Thomas). Total fouls — ISU 16, LU 19. Fouled out — Bradshaw. A — 1,180.
Next — ISU (15-4, 6-1) plays host to Illinois State and Loyola (7-12, 2-5) plays host to Northern Iowa on Saturday.