TERRE HAUTE —
The phrase “take one game at a time” has become such a coach-speak cliché that even casual fans roll their eyes when they hear a coach invoke it.
But cliché or not, the mantra has is rooted in truth … something Indiana State’s men’s basketball team found out the hard way on Wednesday when it lost 66-63 to Evansville at Hulman Center.
“If you start thinking ahead in games … you lose. We might have even done that a little [against Evansville]. We were looking at a stretch where we had Creighton, Wichita State and Missouri State and thinking it was an easy game, even though we had lost to them. You can’t look ahead,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said.
ISU (12-9, 7-3) paid a heavy price for under-estimating the Purple Aces. The Sycamores fell into a tie for third place with the defeat, but worse, whatever margin of error ISU had in fighting for one of the top spots in the Missouri Valley Conference evaporated.
The loss to the Purple Aces puts ISU in a position where it must salvage a victory in a difficult stretch of games that begins today at Creighton. After the Sycamores play the Bluejays, they play host to second-place Wichita State on Tuesday and travel to league-leader Missouri State on Feb. 5.
But while fans and media can look at the big-picture implications of ISU’s loss to Evansville and what it means to the Sycamores’ MVC hopes, the Sycamores themselves can’t afford to get caught in that trap.
If ISU is distracted by what’s ahead of them after the Creighton game, the talented Bluejays will make the Sycamores pay. If ISU keeps its focus solely on Creighton, it might be able to win for the first time in Omaha since 1999 and sweep the season series for the first time since 1993.
“One thing I like is that the guys were disappointed [about the loss to Evansville] and I don’t mind them being disappointed. They expect to win. We watch film on Evansville and we learn from our mistakes. We learn why we lost. Once we watch that film, we move on to Creighton,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
One thing Lansing won’t do is panic. Some have questioned the substitution pattern in recent games. Isiah Martin played well at Wichita State in limited time, but didn’t play at all against Evansville. Koang Doluony hasn’t played at all in three consecutive contests. Lansing defended his decisions on those players.
“I’m disappointed that they don’t get in, I was one of those guys too, and I know what it’s like. The most important thing to me is practice. If you’re practicing better than the people ahead of you, you’re going to get those minutes. Koang and Isiah work hard, but the people ahead of them are more productive everyday in practice,” Lansing said.
“I want to win, I’m going to play the guys that give us the best shot. It’s not that I don’t trust those guys, but we’re deep the way it is. Those guys have to out-perform other people in practice. There’s no courtesy minutes available,” he added.
The game means as much to Creighton (13-9, 5-5) as it does to the Sycamores. The Bluejays have lost four of their last five games, but three of those losses could have been wins.
Creighton lost to ISU 61-59 on Jan. 16 thanks to Carl Richard’s buzzer-beating flip-in. The Bluejays led for all but the final minute at Missouri State last Saturday, but fell apart in the final seconds to suffer a 67-66 defeat. Creighton shot 50 percent against Northern Iowa on Wednesday, but still lost 71-66.
If the Bluejays lose, they fall to 5-6 in the MVC and will be realistically eliminated from finishing in the top tier of the conference.
ISU is battling several nagging injuries, none of them serious enough to keep anyone out of action, but enough to send nearly half of the team to treatment before Thursday’s practice concluded.
Jake Kelly is also still limited minute-wise as he recovers from his stress reaction injury in his right foot. Jake Odum, Aaron Carter, Jordan Printy, Carl Richard, Myles Walker, Steve McWhorter and Koang Doluony are among those who are playing through some pain.
“We’re beat up, but its something that happens through the year. Every team has bumps and bruises. You can’t do a lot in practice, but you still have to prepare for your opponent,” Lansing said.
n ISU to play at Boise State — The Mountain West and Missouri Valley Conferences released the pairings for next season’s MWC-MVC Challenge.
The Sycamores will play at Boise State on Dec. 3. It is the second consecutive year ISU will go on the road for the event. It will be ISU’s first-ever game against the Broncos, who will play in the Mountain West for the first time next season.
ISU played at Wyoming for this season’s challenge and were routed by the Cowboys 81-51 in December 2010.
“It really doesn’t make any difference to me [where ISU goes]. It’s another road game and a good challenge for the conference. The conference didn’t do as well as we’d like [this season] and we’re as much to blame as anybody,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
Lansing explained that ISU got a road game for the second straight year due to the way the Challenge is organized.
“It’s the way the model was set up by the two leagues. Some teams were home-away-away-home, some alternated. We’re one of the home-away-away-home teams, so at least we know we’ll be at home [in 2012-13],” Lansing said.