TERRE HAUTE —
They’re young, they’re struggling, they no longer have Colt Ryan.
But they’re still the Purple Aces of Evansville. And for Indiana State men’s basketball coach Greg Lansing and the Sycamores, that’s enough to give them pause as they embark on their first Missouri Valley Conference road game of the season. These teams will tip off at 8 p.m. today in Ford Center.
Lansing has always worried about defending against Evansville’s motion offense as well as the physical defense the Aces employ. Even though Evansville has lost seven of nine, including a 94-66 humbling at Drake on Wednesday, the respect for the way the Aces play remains.
“They have some young guys, but they have the same coach [Marty Simmons] and the same style of play. They’re one of the tougher motion teams we play against. They screen and cut nonstop,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said.
Ryan, who left Evansville as its all-time leading scorer with 2,279 points, finally called it a day last year after starting for four seasons. His production has been replaced by guard D.J. Balentine. The sophomore has amassed 22.6 points per game and is as close to a go-to guy as any MVC team has.
Odum, a four-year starter himself, knows it’ll be weird not to see Ryan, but he also knows Balentine has the goods.
“It did seem like he’d been there forever … and we came in at the same time. That’s scary for me because I’m still here,” Odum said. “Balentine is just as good as Colt Ryan. He’s an explosive player. We’ll treat him as we did Colt Ryan. We’ll try to limit his touches.”
Balentine is one of seven underclassmen in the Aces’ rotation. The only Evansville upperclassman who plays regularly is junior post player Jaylon Moore. The Aces lost some experience when forward Ryan Sawvell left the program in December.
Conversely, ISU has seven upperclassmen in its rotation. Several of ISU’s sophomores have a year of experience under their belts as well.
Keeping a young team from gaining confidence on its home floor will be important for the Sycamores.
“It’s their first conference home game. It’ll be exciting for them, especially against us, with the way we ended their season last year in the conference tournament. They’ll have some revenge in mind for us. We’re a veteran group. We need to play like it a little more,” ISU swingman Khristian Smith said.
ISU defeated Evansville 51-50 as a blocked shot by Devonte Brown at the buzzer helped the Sycamores advance.
ISU (10-3, 1-0) has had plenty of practice playing road games. This will be ISU’s eighth game away from Hulman Center. Of those, five were true road contests. ISU went 3-2 in those.
Given the road experience the Sycamores have piled up, the trip to Ford Center shouldn’t faze them.
“We certainly didn’t do it on purpose, but we’re hoping it helps us on the road. It’s a whole different animal in the Valley. These teams know us and know how to prepare for us,” Lansing said.
What might faze everyone is the weather forecast. Ice is predicted for Evansville tonight with heavy snow to follow. It shouldn’t affect the game as ISU traveled to Evansville on Friday.
ISU at Evansville at a glance
Tipoff — 8 p.m. today at Ford Center, Evansville
Broadcasts — TV: ESPNU. Radio: WIBQ-FM 98.5. Twitter: @TribStarTodd.
Series — ISU leads 84-75. ISU won two of the three in the series last season, including a win in the MVC Tournament.
Last time out — ISU defeated Loyola 70-58 and Evansville lost 94-66 to Drake on Wednesday.
Indiana State Sycamores (10-3, 1-0) — G Jake Odum (6-4, Sr., 12.8, 4.9 apg, 4.5 rpg), G Devonte Brown (6-3, So., 7.5), G-F Manny Arop (6-6, Sr., 13.2), F Demetrius Moore (6-7, Jr., 5.7) and F Justin Gant (6-8, Jr., 12.4) are possible starters. G Dawon Cummings (6-4, Sr., 9.6), G Khristian Smith (6-6, So., 9.3), C Jake Kitchell (6-10, Jr., 3.3), G Lucas Eitel (6-2, Sr., 2.2), G Brandon Burnett (6-6, So., 1.6) and F T.J. Bell (6-8, Fr., 1 ppg) are key reserves.
Coach — Greg Lansing (66-47 at ISU, 4th year).
Evansville Purple Aces (7-7, 0-1) — G D.J. Balentine (6-2, So., 22.6), G Adam Wing (6-4, So., 9 ppg), G Duane Gibson (6-3, Fr., 8.1), G-F Blake Simmons (6-5, Fr., 8.3) and C Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, So., 9.2, 5.5 rpg) are the possible starters. G Jaylon Brown (6-0, Fr., 4.6), F-C Jaylon Moore (6-7, Jr., 4.6), F David Howard (6-8, Fr., 3 ppg) and G Tyler Ptacek (6-3, Fr., 1.7)are key reserves.
Coach — Marty Simmons (95-110, 7th year at Evansville; 194-182, 13th year overall).
Injuries and absences — For ISU, C Mike Samuels (foot) is out. F Justin Gant (flu) is questionable. G Jake Odum (knees) is probable. For Evansville, F Ryan Sawvell left the program in December.
Next games — ISU plays at Drake and Evansville plays host to Northern Iowa on Wednesday.
— Todd Golden