Jake Kelly and Dwayne Lathan are unquestionably two of Indiana State’s most gifted players. On the right night, either of them can carry the Sycamores to a victory.
Saturday, however, was not that night. Not against a 19th-ranked Purdue team who values defense above all else.
And therein lies the problem with both Kelly and Lathan. They try to make it happen every night when it’s crystal clear that they need to get others involved.
The desire to be “The Man,” the desire to be the Sycamore that everyone can count on, the desire on both of their parts to hit the shot to win the game or get the team into rhythm is so palatable with both Kelly and Lathan that it often leads to their undoing … and the Sycamores’ demise too.
Saturday’s game was a microcosm of what’s happened in some of ISU’s losses in an on-again, off-again 5-6 season.
With 9:07 left in the game against Purdue, ISU was down 47-45. The Sycamores had played well and had momentum. A much-larger-than-anticipated ISU crowd had Conseco Fieldhouse rocking. The game was in the balance ... all ISU had to do was play smart and play within themselves and a possible upset was there for the taking.
Given that Purdue won 65-52, that obviously didn’t happen. ISU cratered in a flurry of turnovers and forced shots.
It would be inaccurate to deflect credit from a Purdue defense that is as good as advertised. However, Kelly and Lathan played their part too. They tried to force too many ill-conceived passes and shots ... and that plan of action wasn’t going to have success against the tough-minded Boilermakers.
Lathan was guilty of making low-percentage drives to the bucket, often into a Purdue defense that gladly let him try to body his way to the basket against three defenders. Lathan put his head down and tried to bulldoze his way to the bucket with predictably little success. He also got off his feet on a few occasions, leading to low-percentage passes that disrupted ISU’s offensive flow or led to turnovers.
Lathan’s kamikaze drives to the bucket can be effective against teams that aren’t of the defensive caliber of Purdue, but it was clear that trying to force acrobatic layups against the Boilermakers’ defense was foolhardy.
To his credit, Lathan realized it too.
“Our teammates trust us to make plays and we have to trust them to do the same. Of course, me and Jake are going to be the leading scorers and we’re going to play the most minutes, but we have to do a better job of getting everyone else involved and make our teammates better. We will do a better job of it,” Lathan said.
Kelly, also guilty at times of low-percentage attempts at the basket, will sometimes slow the offensive flow down with an unecessary crossover dribble. He also guilty of something all of ISU’s guards have done at times ... passing to a spot on the floor without sighting whether their teammates has made the proper cut or not.
“Me and Dwayne were trying to make things happen down the stretch ... it just didn’t work out. We can’t keep using the excuse we’re a new team. We need to get better everyday, define our roles and get our execution down to perfection,” Kelly said.
To be fair, at times this season, Lathan and Kelly have had to carry the team. The other starters and the bench weren’t legitimate scoring options early in the season. So it’s hard to go from one game to the next not expecting to be “The Man.” It’s a tough situation.
But being “The Man," truly being the best player on the team, isn’t just about scoring. It’s about judgment.
Lathan and Kelly can both be “The Man” by recognizing when they’re being double-teamed, when the caliber of the opposing defense is such that they need to hold back, and when to not try and take over the game.
That’s what being “The Man” is all about. Knowing when to pick your spots and when not to. Saturday, it was clear both players needed to get their teammates involved. They didn’t ... and the result was that Lathan and Kelly accounted for 13 of ISU’s 18 turnovers in a what-might-have-been 13-point loss.
ISU coach Greg Lansing knows it too.
“Dwayne and Jake really try hard. They know we’re right there in the game. They know every defense is designed to stop them. [Purdue] was sending a couple of people at Dwayne late. He tries so hard to make a play and wants to help us win, but sometimes they force stuff,” Lansing said.
“We have to keep working with them. They need to share the ball and trust their teammates and get their teammates open shots. They need to be distributors. They need to be happy with scoring five or six points, their teammates getting buckets and us winning games,” Lansing added.
Lansing asked whether the pressure to be “The Man” was weighing on Lathan and Kelly.
“I think it is, but we talk about it all the time. They know that every team we play is designed to stop those two. They need to see things better, when the help comes, they need to make the simple pass. When we did that tonight, we got open looks,” Lansing said. “They just need to trust their teammates a little bit more and make those guys better. We have other guys who score other than just those two.”
The pressure to be “The Man” is something Lathan and Kelly need to put out of their minds. The tighter they’re wound in trying to fulfill that role, the less success ISU is going to have.
If both players can free their minds of that burden and make the high-percentage choices, the Sycamores can live up to the promise most had for them this season.
If they don’t? The Sycamores will spin their wheels and no one will care who “The Man” was on a losing team.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or email@example.com. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.