By Todd Golden
TERRE HAUTE — Sometimes, when asking a question as a reporter, confidently using a $50 word puts you at risk of being exposed for having a 50-cent brain.
In the press conference after Indiana State’s 60-54 victory over Oral Roberts on Sunday, I asked Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna how ISU guard Harry Marshall and forward Dwayne Lathan have developed their “symbiosis” which has served the Sycamores so well in multiple games during their 6-3 start.
“I don’t know what symbiosis means,” McKenna said. “But Dwayne and Harry do have a good feel for each other.”
After the press conference, a good-natured poll of the press room at Hulman Center was unanimous — no one else knew what symbiosis was either. Which made me kind of nervous that I stumbled into one of those 50-cent brain moments.
I’m happy to report that symbiosis — two bodies that are dependent on each other — is indeed a real word and that it was used properly, which in my case, just goes to show that the blind squirrel does occasionally find the nut.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re familiar with the word or not. If you’ve never heard of symbiosis, you can easily illustrate the word’s meaning by observing the way Marshall and Lathan have worked together on the floor this season.
On-court chemistry on the offensive end has been so-so for the Sycamores this season. Sunday’s game was a microcosm of that as the offense was alternately crisp and occasionally bogged down into ugly shots and questionable decision-making. However, when the chips have been down, it’s been the Marshall-Lathan connection that has served the Sycamores best, especially in the last two games, as Marshall and Lathan have accounted for 49 percent of ISU’s scoring against Ball State and ORU.
“Chemistry, not just between me and Harry, is getting better and better. We’re getting better at knowing what we’re going to do,” Lathan said. “Harry knows when he’s driving, I’m going to the basket. He’s knows when I’m driving, he’s spotting up. Everybody knows what each other is going to do, we’re making the extra pass and getting everyone involved.”
Marshall and Lathan teamed up to almost single-handedly wipe out an ISU deficit that peaked at 16 against Ball State on Wednesday. In a 15-4 run that briefly put the Sycamores on top of the Cardinals, the pair accounted for all of the points during the rally. Moreover, it was Marshall creating the play for Lathan in many cases ... working off the press in transition, or, Marshall finding Lathan for easy opportunities near the basket for a bucket, free throw opportunity, and an occasional alley-oop dunk.
“Him being athletic definitely helps. You can throw it to the top of the square and know that he’s the only one who can get it,” Marshall said.
On Wednesday, their efforts came up short. On Sunday, they didn’t.
Three times in the final 7:33, Marshall and Lathan connected with each other to create scoring for the Sycamores. During a 10-0 run that got the Sycamores back in the game, Marshall drove, drew the ORU defense, and dished to Lathan for a traditional layup.
Later, with ISU holding on to a tenuous 53-52 lead, Marshall got the ball on the right wing from Jake Kelly — who joined in the productive Marshall-Lathan partnership in the latter part of the first half by working the ball around from the top of the key. Marshall saw that Lathan was open in the left corner and tossed a baseline pass to the sophomore. Lathan buried the 3-pointer, arguably the biggest bucket in the game for ISU as it had a two-possession lead.
If there’s an argument, the next Marshall-Lathan connection would provide the counter-point. ISU led 56-54 with 1:22 to go when Marshall, stationed at the top of the key, went on one of his familiar Tasmanian Devil-style drives down the lane. Once again, he drew the defense and dished to Lathan, who had instinctively gone to the basket to corral either a rebound or a pass. Lathan was fouled hard to prevent what would have been an easy bucket as he went to the line and buried a pair of free throws to essentially put the game away.
“When Harry penetrates, Dwayne does a good job of finding that open spot. He’s a good instinctive basketball player and just seems to find the ball a lot because he’s athletic and he moves,” McKenna said. “One of the things you notice about guys is that Dwayne stayed later than anyone after practice [on Saturday] and shot more than anybody. That was a big 3 he hit to get us over the hump.”
Marshall sees a lot of himself in Lathan, who is fulfilling the finishing role Marshall once had when he wasn’t the distributor.
“He does things I used to do in high school and that I once did with this team. It’s my role to find guys,” Marshall said. “Knowing and feeling him out, I know what he’s doing is something I used to do.”
Call it symbiosis. Call it whatever. But call it a fruitful partnership for the Sycamores.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.