TERRE HAUTE —
In the wake of Indiana State’s 71-69 loss to Northern Iowa on Saturday, and the three-game losing streak that comes with it, ISU coach Greg Lansing wanted to get one point across crystal clear in his postgame press conference.
“It’s not a collapse, I’ll just say that. We’re not collapsing,” Lansing said.
The notion that ISU is collapsing, swooning, or whatever failure adjective you choose to use, sticks in the craw of many around the ISU program. They feel a segment of their fanbase is being too negative about a season in which ISU won 21 games and had its highest finish (second) in the Missouri Valley Conference since 2000.
Many fans don’t want to hear that. They remember the seven losses in nine games to end the 2013 season which scuttled a possible NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Their worst fear was to have a repeat scenario play out. Though ISU’s three-game losing streak is its first losing skid of any kind this season, many feel those worst fears have been realized. ISU once again committed the worst sin — raising the bar of expectation and failing to clear it.
Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Good luck trying to parse these camps. Lansing is of the firm belief that the Sycamores will be fine, despite recent evidence that might suggest otherwise. The fans who cry collapse are of the equal mind that Lansing doesn’t have the answers and ISU will whimper into the offseason … even though ISU has re-grouped before.
No matter what camp you happen to fall into — both sides have their salient and silly points — it’s going to take a week to know who’s right. Lansing is not going to budge when it comes to believing in his veteran group. He’s going with the horse he rode in with.
“I give the guys a bit of an excuse. You’re locking into that number two [MVC Tournament] spot and I think we coasted a little bit. That comes on me, that doesn’t come on them. I haven’t been as hard-driving in practices, but I’m trying to get more rested this year and I think we are, I think we’re good and healthy going into St. Louis,” Lansing said.
That may be, but for many fans, that’s not good enough, and the excuses are getting tired. They want to know why ISU has shot so poorly from mid-January on. Why zone defenses flummox the Sycamores so much? Why ISU can look crisp at one point — as it did at the end of the first half against UNI on Saturday — and look equally poor — as it did when it had three turnovers in three possessions to feed a UNI second-half rally. How can a team of veterans be so inconsistent?
It can irk Lansing who thinks ISU is being unfairly judged by one bad week against a solid season.
“It is what it is. We lost two road games against two teams fighting for third place. Missouri State and Illinois State can win the tournament. There’s nothing wrong with losing to those teams. UNI is a really good team. They have as good a chance as anybody,” Lansing said.
Those within ISU’s camp would like to know why fans are so inclined to abandon ship? Why criticism is so easily hurled and praise, in their minds, is so hard to come by? It’s a legitimate question. There is a vocal segment of fans so eager to eat their own they ought to be on The Walking Dead. Coaches and players are supposed to have thick skin and ignore it, but they’re only human, so they can’t.
“People can say what they want, that’s their opinion, but 20 wins for the fifth time in school history and not a bad conference season. If we would’ve won [against UNI], people wouldn’t say that stuff. But if people say that stuff [about collapsing], that’s fine, that’s not going to bother us. We’re going to St. Louis,” Lansing said.
For Lansing, that’s exactly where this team’s legacy will be determined. His approach will make him look good or will open him up to harsher criticism if the Sycamores don’t make a run at Arch Madness next week.
Leave it to ISU point guard Jake Odum to see the situation for what it is and what it can be.
“We’ve had this bad taste in our mouth two years in a row now. We know we need to make changes, we need to make adjustments and look ourselves in the mirror. We have to man up, really,” Odum said.
“It’s disappointing the way we ended the season, but it’s going to inspire us. We can take something from it. We’ve grown together,” Odum added. “We’ve been through some hard times the last couple of years and we bounce back from those hard times. We still have an opportunity and it’s not over.”
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.