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December 19, 2013

Sycamores 'learn lesson' in toughness from Saint Louis loss

Billikens slow down ISU's high-powered offense

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State’s 83-66 loss to Saint Louis on Wednesday at Chaifetz Arena was many things.

It was a study in how the Billikens play suffocatiing defense. Despite shooting 48 percent, ISU had trouble gaining traction against SLU’s physical stopping power all night.

It was frustrating. ISU was whistled for 29 fouls, including 21 in the second half. SLU marched to the line seemingly at will. The second half was called far tighter by the officials than the first half where contact was widely tolerated which made it hard to know exactly how to play defense.

It was strange. ISU, the top 3-point shooting team in the nation entering the game, shot 3 of 11 from long range (and fell to third nationally). SLU, shooting 30 percent from 3-point range, drained 6 of 10 in the second half.

It was many things, but most of all, it was a missed opportunity for the Sycamores.

ISU coach Greg Lansing saw the game as a test of ISU’s toughness against a prototypical Jim Crews-coached team that wears that attribute on its sleeve.

“[SLU] is the type of team you want to be. You want to be difficult to play against. You can go in our locker room right now and ask if Saint Louis was difficult to play against and their answer would be a resounding ‘yes’. If you asked their team? I think they’d say they’ve played teams that were tougher,” Lansing said.

“We said all along it was two good teams and the outcome would be on who was the tougher team. They gave us a lesson tonight. It’s what we needed, really,” he added.

Few Sycamores had solid games. Manny Arop led the Sycamores with 16 points and was an offensive force at times, but also, a defensive liability. Justin Gant and Khristian Smith had 12 points.

Guard play, normally one of ISU’s strengths, let the Sycamores down. Jake Odum had nine points and six assists, but also had seven turnovers. Dawon Cummings scored four points and had poor shot selection.

“We overdribbled and you can’t overdribble against a team that well-schooled defensively,” Lansing said. “You have to pass it around and trust your teammates to get the ball moving. We’ve done that this year, but this was, by far, the best defensive team we’ve played this year, so we didn’t handle it well.”

ISU lamented other problems. SLU outrebounded ISU 34-22, which led to 15 second-chance points. Timing was everything and several of SLU’s second-chance buckets broke ISU momentum.

“We gave those up at key moments of the game. You can’t allow that to happen,” Arop said. “It’s a humbling game. We’ve been trying to make defense a point of emphasis and we’ve struggled to keep teams at a low percentage. They were making a lot of shots today. Our defense and toughness got tested and we didn’t rise up to the challenge like I hoped we would.”

Then there were the fouls. At one point in the final 10 minutes, SLU scored at the line on 10 of 14 possessions. In all SLU was 21 of 26 at the line after the break. Dwayne Jones, SLU’s leading scorer, went to the line 20 times alone. He made 16 and led all scorers with 24 points.

ISU took the high road after the game and wouldn’t say the fouls hampered their effort. But it was hard to know exactly how to play defense after the first half was called loose and the second was called air-tight.

“There was a huge difference in the second half, but that’s how it is on the road a lot,” said Lansing, who deflected blame on himself. “I caught myself complaining to the officials way too much and I think that has an effect on our guys. We had some negative body motion when we didn’t think we were getting calls, but you can’t control that. We have to control what we can control.”

ISU’s pattern of matching good spurts with bad spurts came to the fore. Until late in the contest, ISU repeatedly fought back when behind, but could never square the circle on maintaining its momentum. The 40-minute effort the Sycamores seek continues to be elusive.

“We had spurts of aggressiveness, but we need to have longer spurts and stay aggressive the whole game,” Gant said.

For Lansing, it came back to that trait again ... toughness.

“We got taught a lesson. I think we needed it. Our pride’s hurt, our ego’s hurt a little bit. We’re a good team, but we got beat by a really good team that’s tougher than heck,” Lansing said.

The loss to SLU won’t damage ISU’s postseason resume too much, in fact, just playing the Billikens likely raises ISU’s RPI.

The Sycamores play IUPUI at home on Saturday -- its first game at Hulman Center in nearly a month -- and follow it with a rematch against a solid Belmont team on Dec. 28. The Sycamores lost to the Bruins 96-95 on Nov. 14 in a highly-entertaing -- and frustrating -- contest.

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