TERRE HAUTE — It’s no overstatement that as Justin Gant went in the 2012-13 season, so did the Indiana State’s men’s basketball team.
As ISU was rode high in the national tournament discussion in January and early February last season, it dove-tailed with Gant’s most productive period. Through Feb. 4, Gant averaged 10.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 11 Missouri Valley Conference games.
“Through the first half of conference last year, Justin was all-conference level. He was as good as anybody,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
Afterwards? Gant failed to score double-digits again for the remainder of the MVC season and only topped five rebounds twice.
It’s not accurate to say that Gant’s February slip-back was the biggest contributor in ISU losing seven of its last nine games last season … there were plenty of other factors. The truth remains that Gant’s ability to score in the paint and take pressure off of the Sycamores’ backcourt scoring options makes the Sycamores a far harder team to defend.
Now a junior, the Terre Haute native seeks to find season-long consistency that eluded him during his sophomore season.
“I’ve had two good years and learned a lot. I feel I know exactly what my role is. I’ve learned to play to my strengths and stay away from my weaknesses in games and get better at my weaknesses in practice,” Gant said.
Lansing knows how important Gant is to ISU’s fortunes. He proved it anew with a 17-point performance in the Sycamores’ 83-70 triumph over No. 21 Notre Dame on Nov. 17. Gant was adept in the paint and made 3 of 4 from 3-point range.
“I think he’s a huge key for how good we can be. We can be good if Justin is just OK, but if he wants to take it to an another level, I think our team can take it to another level,” Lansing said. “ Justin has come so far. I’m so proud of what he’s done. He’s more mature, he’s getting stronger, he’s getting tougher, he’s turned into a better player.”
Gant felt he needed to improve his consistency in the paint first of all. Gant has a soft touch around the basket, but is still working on his accuracy and positioning himself close to the basket to get the easiest shot attempt.
“I worked a lot on my inside game to get it going. I feel a lot more comfortable in there now. I feel I can go inside and out and I feel that’s the best aspect of my game,” Gant said.
Lansing added more. Gant needed to work on his maturity, toughness and strength in both the physical and mental realms.
“It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a little bit of taking care of your body better. It’s a little bit of getting stronger. It’s a little bit of working on your game harder. It’s getting a little more competitive and fighting through some things you never had to fight through before,” Lansing said. “His competitiveness has gotten better and I think that will take his game to another level.”
Gant thinks so too and he’s buoyant about the chance to be counted upon as a team leader. Though he has more help in the lane with Demetrius Moore, T.J. Bell, and later, the possible return of Mike Samuels, Gant is the most experienced post player and wants to prove his mettle.
“It’s a difference from the last couple of years. I was the younger guy, the underclassman, but being an upperclassman, we want to take hold of this team,” Gant said. “We don’t have one leader, we have a group of leaders. It helps our team tremendously. We have five or six guys who know what they’re talking about. I like being considered one of the leaders.”