Quick quiz … what’s the state flower of Hawaii?
Don’t worry. I can’t just rattle state flowers off the top of my head. I had to look it up too, even though I’ve seen them all over the place in Honolulu.
I didn’t even know that Indiana’s state flower is the peony, which replaced the apparently unloved zinnia in the 1950s.
Hawaii’s flower, and they’re ubiquitous in Waikiki tourist shops and in actual flora on Oahu, is the yellow hibiscus.
The yellow hibiscus is big, bold and bright. I’ve never seen one blossom, but I imagine it has to be a beautiful sight.
What I have seen blossom — and it’s the only reason flowers would be brought up in my column — is the Indiana State basketball team at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
From the beginning, I expected ISU’s nonconference schedule to be a laboratory of sorts. With seven players who had never played a game in an ISU uniform, the process of building chemistry, feeling out what each player’s strengths and weaknesses are, etc., would be a game-by-game process.
So far, that’s exactly how its played out.
There have been surprises — a 20-point blowout win at Ball State (the Cardinals are bad, but ISU hadn’t won there since 1986 and had just three games under its belt at the time) and a riveting overtime loss at home to then-unbeaten New Mexico.
And there have been surprises of the ugly sort, most notably, a poorly played 71-63 loss at Morehead State on Dec. 8.
Even though I knew full-well that ISU would have its ups and downs during this process, it was still an open question for me going into the Diamond Head Classic whether to be buoyant about where ISU might be headed or have doubts.
I thought the Diamond Head Classic would serve as a litmus test of which direction ISU could be expected to go. It’s not the culmination of where ISU is headed because even though most of us think of things in a nonconference/conference context, it’s never that simple, and ISU will continue to grow and have missteps during the MVC campaign.
But as a time-marking exercise, it’s as good a time as any to take the Sycamores’ season temperature.
After an 87-85 overtime win over Mississippi and a competitive 62-55 loss to No. 18 San Diego State, I think ISU fans should feel good about this team.
While some of the on-floor performances have been strong — Justin Gant has played much better, for example — it’s more than that. I’ve spent a lot of time with the team in Hawaii and they’ve done a good job developing team chemistry.
Team chemistry is a murky concept. The trick of good team chemistry is to make sure that chemistry translates to the games. Plenty of bad teams have good off-the-floor team chemistry. ISU is better now than it was in November at recognizing at each other’s tendencies and playing to strengths. That’s been crystal clear in Honolulu.
“What I’ve noticed, especially in the last two games, is we’ve been building chemistry. That’s huge for us. It’s another step in the right direction,” ISU guard Jake Odum said. “We’re just about there, but not quite, that’s why we lose games like this [to San Diego State], but you learn something and then you take a step forward.”
Another sign of progress is buy-in on the defensive end. To be honest, ISU’s offensive execution against San Diego State — with 17 turnovers and a few questionable shots — should have doomed the Sycamores to defeat long before the final two minutes of the game. Neither players or coaches were happy with the way the offense was executed, even when taking the Aztecs’ defensive quality into account.
Yet ISU was able to stay in the game despite not playing well. ISU didn’t always get stops — the Aztecs were the best team ISU has played this season and they weren’t going to be held down forever — but they got enough to stay in the game.
It wasn’t enough against the No. 18 Aztecs, but it will be against lesser foes.
In fact, ISU’s performances in its two games would be good enough to win against nearly every MVC team. San Diego State is better than any team in the MVC … Creighton included.
But what’s really struck me is something I don’t normally get to see. I’ve done something on this trip I’ve not done in my nine seasons on the beat. I’ve walked over to ISU’s hotel from my own and I’ve rode the team bus to and from games.
You might expect that it would be joyous ride back to the team hotel in the wake of the win over Ole Miss on Saturday, but it wasn’t. It was quiet. It was all business. ISU expected to win and expected to beat the Aztecs on Sunday.
There was disappointment after the loss to San Diego State, but there was no overreaction. There’s still another game to play. The Sycamores have had a healthy, even-keel approach before and after games.
ISU has grown through the nonconference season and has blossomed in the first two games in Hawaii. It’ll be fun to see if they reach full flower when MVC play begins on Sunday.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or email@example.com. Please follow him on Twitter @TribStarTodd.
- Indiana State University
Zurek, one of ISU's best defenders, also working hard off the court
Winning basketball teams need glue players, the term sometimes used when referring to someone who helps hold it all together.
In some cases, that means getting the ball in the right place at the right time. Or having a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
It’s more often than not coming away with a loose ball on the court. It’s deflecting so many passes that you become the player that most annoys the opponent.
For Indiana State, that’s Natasha Zurek. The junior athletic training major was inserted into the starting lineup for the past two games.
Zurek leads the Sycamores with 16 steals through six games, which isn’t surprising to anyone on the team.
Swift excels for ISU track in EIU Early Bird indoor track meet
The Indiana State men’s track and field team won the Eastern Illinois Early Bird meet by scoring 133 points.
Eastern Illinois placed second with 111 and Illinois State was third with 70.
The Sycamores started off the meet strong with wins in the mile run and 60-meter hurdles.
Freshman David Timlin won the mile, leading from the gun in a time of 4:15.20. In the hurdles, senior Greggmar Swift led a dominating performance by the Sycamores as they took the top four places in the event. Swift won the race in 7.74 seconds.
EIU might come at right time for ISU
Sometimes an opponent lines up just right on the schedule that suits a team’s needs.
That’s true for Indiana State as it travels to play Eastern Illinois at 8 p.m. today at Lantz Arena. And it’s not because the Panthers have struggled, even though they have.
Carmel firm’s brace a good fit for Manning
Local entrepreneur Rick Peters is a devoted Indianapolis Colts fan, but he jumped out of his living room recliner on the evening of Nov. 13 when he saw an ESPN report on Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s bad ankle.
ISU’s Underwood named first team All-MVC
Sophomore linebacker/defensive end Connor Underwood was named to the all-Missouri Valley Football Conference first team on Monday, heading a list of five Indiana State players honored.
Metro sports: ISU women play today at No. 15 LSU
Indiana State’s women finish a three-game road swing by playing nationally ranked LSU at 12:30 p.m. today at Baton Rouge.
From The Press Box: If ISU figures out defense, look out
The Great Alaska Shootout is not going to provide the Great RPI Bump that Indiana State’s participation in last year’s Diamond Head Classic provided.
Indiana State holds off hot-shooting Pepperdine
Indiana State’s men’s basketball team is very much a work in progress defensively. Evidence of that came Saturday when Pepperdine shot 57.8 percent against the Sycamores in the fourth-place game of the Great Alaska Shootout.
But when it came down to winning time? Pepperdine’s Waves crashed on the rocks of ISU’s defense.
Sycamores outpace Seawolves
Indiana State wanted a better defensive effort in its Great Alaska Shootout consolation semifinal game against host Alaska-Anchorage on Friday, but the Seawolves weren’t going to give the Sycamores an orthodox offense to assess themselves with.
Humbled Sycamores want to make amends
The disappointment undeniably exists, but the bottom line for Indiana State’s men’s basketball team is there’s nothing that can be done about its 63-62 loss to Tulsa late Wednesday night.
But the Sycamores want to remember it. They want to let the bad feeling they had simmer, but turn into something positive.
Uneven Sycamores fall 63-62 to Tulsa
Indiana State loses to Tulsa 63-62 in opening game of Great Alaska Shootout
Tulsa's switching defenses confounded Sycamores
Tulsa paid Indiana State the respect they feel the Sycamores earned with a 3-1 start and a win at Notre Dame on Nov. 17.
So the Golden Hurricane threw multiple defenses at the Sycamores.
On target: Sycamores spreading the wealth with their shooting
Indiana State’s men's basketball team did many things right during the 2012-13 season, but one thing it couldn’t get a handle on was its 3-point shooting. The Sycamores shot 32.1 percent from 3-point range, ranked 252nd in the nation. It was going to take a lot of work to improve ISU’s percentage. So far, hard work has had its own reward.
O’Leary eyes return to Hulman Center
Former Terre Haute North standout Matt O’Leary is hoping to help Loyola Chicago coach Porter Moser turn the program into a new chapter of success in a new conference.
ISU wants to take Hawaii spirit to Alaska
Since Greg Lansing took over as Indiana State’s men’s basketball coach, the Sycamores have seen their frequent flier and hotel points skyrocket.
After a decade or so prior in which the Sycamores mostly stayed in the Midwest to play tournaments, if they played them at all, holiday trips to Florida and Hawaii were on the docket during the last two seasons.
Sanford vows to get ISU football back on track
Indiana State football coach Mike Sanford said that the Sycamores’ just-concluded 1-11 season was a learning experience for everyone.
Free throws seal win for ISU women in 20-point comeback
Two free throws by Lashonda Littleton with 1.7 seconds left Sunday enabled visiting Indiana State to overcome a deficit that was 20 points at one time and earn a 68-67 nonconference women’s basketball victory at Marshall.
METRO/PREP ROUNDUP: ISU volleyball barely misses MVC tournament
A 15-13 loss in the decisive fifth set at Southern Illinois late Saturday ended the Indiana State volleyball season one victory short of the Missouri Valley Conference postseason tournament.
ISU puts up fight, but can’t hold off SIU in football
Indiana State’s football team had nothing to play for aside from pride in its finale Saturday against Southern Illinois. The Sycamores also had an injury list that made it difficult to cobble together a starting unit at all.
Given the circumstances, ISU put up a very good fight against the playoff-hopeful Salukis, but the task was too much for the Sycamores as they fell 31-9 at Memorial Stadium.
ISU women play today at Marshall
The Indiana State women’s basketball players put their hands together at the end of practice Thursday, shouting a collective “do work.”
On the heels of a 90-74 loss at Stetson, the Missouri Valley Conference preseason favorites are 2-2 and not content with losing, especially when giving up 90 points.
Weather forced move of start line at NCAA
Indiana State coach John McNichols made the decision early Saturday morning to move the starting line up about 100 meters. The reason was to ensure every team in the NCAA Cross Country Championships would have a fair start. Sticking one team directly in front of a large puddle of standing water and another in front of a relatively dry area would not have provided fair conditions.
ISU defeats Truman
What do you expect when a Division II team pays a visit to a Division I arena?
In Truman State’s case, you can expect a pretty good showing. Indiana State had some nervous moments against the Bulldogs, but the Sycamores prevailed 80-69 on Friday at Hulman Center.
ISU football closes out season against SIU
Indiana State’s football team had its last practice of the 2013 season Thursday and it had a jovial climax.
Favorites look to win at NCAA cross country championships
Two consensus thoughts prevailed in the hunt for the NCAA cross country individual championships: Kenyan Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech is the heavy favorite to repeat as men’s 10,000-meter champion and Dartmouth senior Abbey D’Agostino, last year’s runner-up, will be tough to stop from winning the women’s 6,000-meter race.
ISU’s Underwood family affected by Illinois tornado
Indiana State defensive end Connor Underwood can be forgiven if football wasn’t the biggest thing on his mind this week as the team prepared for its season finale against Southern Illinois today.
New officiating edict could help ISU's Odum
For ISU, one player immediately comes to mind as far as who might benefit most from the new rules -- senior point guard Jake Odum.
Gant looms large in ISU's 2013-14 improvement
It’s no overstatement that as Justin Gant went in the 2012-13 season, so did the Indiana State’s men’s basketball team.
- ISU women have options in the post
John Mascari’s sights set high in NCAA cross country championships
Big John is in the big show for the second straight year.
This time, Terre Haute’s own John Mascari, an Indiana State sophomore, has his sights on an All-American finish Saturday on the course he grew up racing as a prep standout at Terre Haute North.
Mascari was 60th in the NCAA championships as a freshman at Louisville, and after last week’s Great Lakes Region victory, he is confident he can crack the top 40 at LaVern Gibson Championship Course in front of hometown fans.
ISU basketball hopes to continue free-throw accuracy
Taking — and then making — free throws have been important in basketball from the beginning, regardless of changes in offensive philosophy or rules. But when the NCAA mandated that officials consistently call contact fouls, everyone in the game knew that making free throws would take on even greater importance than usual this season.
- More Indiana State University Headlines
- Zurek, one of ISU's best defenders, also working hard off the court