NORMAL, Ill. —
Indiana State's men's basketball team is running out of answers for its recent woes ... and it's running out of time to fix them.
The slumping Sycamores added defensive problems to their offensive slump on Wednesday at Illinois State. The Redbirds made the Sycamores pay dearly for their poor all-around effort out of the gate as the Sycamores fell 77-59.
Illinois State ended the suspense early by scoring on its first six possessions. The Redbirds would go on to make 9 of their first 11 shots in the first eight minutes. The Sycamores never knew what hit them. ISU was down 13 at the end of that run and never recovered.
ISU (21-8, 12-5) lost consecutive games for the first time this season. While it's just a two-game losing streak, the underlying causes of the dip are more disconcerting. The Sycamores seem to be heading in the wrong direction at the worst possible time.
"You saw a team that acted like its season was over. The team in the blue might be the poorest coached team in the country," ISU coach Greg Lansing said. "We're going to have two games left in the season if that's the way we're going to approach things because that is not the team I've seen most of this year. If they want to be done, they'll be done in a couple of games.
"With four seniors on the team, this isn't something [a team] should do," Lansing added.
One of those seniors, Jake Odum, spoke in no uncertain terms about the state of the Sycamores.
"The only thing you can take away from it is you can get your [expletive] kicked by anybody at any time. Two games in a row where we got whooped up and down the floor on both ends of the court," Odum said. "We shot too many three's, we didn't attack the basket, we let [Reggie] Lynch block five shots. On the defensive end, they started 9 of 11. We can't beat teams when we defend like that."
Dawon Cummings led ISU with 12 points. Daishon Knight had 20 for the Redbirds. Reggie Lynch had 16 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots. Zach Lofton also had 16 for Illinois State.
Neither ISU's offense nor its defense can escape recriminations for the loss. Even after Illinois State's 9 of 11 start, the Redbirds continued to attack the basket with little resistance. It was a bad sign for the Sycamores, who have played good defense in February despite struggling on the offensive end.
"I really felt our defense had been getting better. We didn't show it tonight," Lansing said.
ISU's offense showed little sign of awakening. After it seemed to find holes in Illinois State's zone early on -- the Sycamores made their first three shots -- went into vapor-lock. ISU attacked the middle, where Illinois State shot-blocker Reggie Lynch plies his trade. Lynch, who averages 2.5 blocks per game, had all five of his swats by halftime.
ISU's 3-point shooting was non-existent. The Sycamores missed all eight of their first-half attempts. ISU showed little sign of breaking out of its shooting slump as it made 5 of 19 from 3-point range overall.
Illinois State's lead peaked at 34-14 with 8:58 to go in the first half. ISU trailed 42-26 at halftime.
It was more of the same to start the second half. Illinois State (16-13, 9-8) saw its lead go back to 22. It was until there was under 10 minutes left that ISU sliced into its deficit. Consecutive 3-pointers by Manny Arop, Lucas Eitel and Cummings made it 61-49 with 7:21 remaining.
But it was just a brief respite from the gloom. Illinois State finished the game on a 17-10 run to win their third in a row over ISU at Redbird Arena.
Lansing was asked what he said, or planned to say, to his team.
"I'm a fighter, and if I was on that team, I wouldn't allow it. I'd be fighting some of those guys. I'd be in their face, be real honest with them, and tell them what I think. There's no excuse to come out the way we've come out the last two games," Lansing said.
Next for ISU is its regular season finale on Saturday at Hulman Center against Northern Iowa. Tipoff is 1 p.m.
If ISU loses Saturday, it will have a two-game losing streak entering the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament for the second season in a row.
"The lack of competitiveness and allowing something like this to happen is something I'm concerned about," Lansing said.
The time to fix it is running out. The Sycamores have to fight off frustration as much as they do their on-court issues.
"We have to take a look in the mirror. Our team chemistry fell a little bit in the last couple of games. It happens like that when you're not winning. It's tough. We have to sit down as a group and figure out what direction we're going in. We don't have much time, but we'll figure it out. We have to stick together," Odum said.
"It's hard to fight off the frustration. The only way to do it is to win on Saturday. We weren't a team tonight. I'm not saying we were selfish, but when times got hard, we never came together as one," Cummings said.
Odum, Eitel, Arop and Cummings will be honored on Senior Day.
INDIANA STATE (59) -- Arop 2-9 2-2 7, Gant 3-8 0-0 6, Smith 4-7 1-2 9, Cummings 3-10 4-6 12, Odum 2-6 5-6 9, Kitchell 1-1 2-3 4, Eitel 1-2 0-0 3, Brown 1-4 0-0 2, Burnett 2-4 0-0 5, Bell 0-0 0-0 0. 20-54 FG, 14-19 FT, 59 TP.
ILLINOIS STATE (77) -- Lynch 6-8 4-5 16, Lee 1-5 2-3 4, Knight 6-15 7-8 20, Hunter 2-2 4-6 9, Zeisloft 3-6 0-0 8, Keane 1-2 1-2 3, Samuel 0-1 0-0 0, Wills 0-0 1-2 1, Lofton 5-11 3-6 16, Stacho 0-2 0-0 0. 24-52 FG, 22-32 FT, 77 TP.
Halftime --ILS 42-26. 3-point goals -- ISU 5-19 (Cummings 2-6, Arop 1-6, Eitel 1-2, Burnett 1-2, Odum 0-2, Gant 0-1); ILS 7-20 (Lofton 3-7, Zeisloft 2-4, Knight 1-4, Hunter 1-1, Lee 0-2, Stacho 0-2). Rebounds -- ISU 34 (Arop 5, Brown 5, Smith 4, Eitel 4, Gant 3, Cummings 3, Kitchell 2, Burnett 2, Team 2, Odum); ILS 35 (Lynch 8, Knight 8, Team 7, Keane 3, Hunter 2, Zeisloft 2, Wills 2, Lofton 2, Lee). Assists -- ISU 13 (Cummings 3, Odum 3, Brown 2, Arop, Gant, Smith, Eitel, Moore); ILS 11 (Hunter 4, Lee 3, Knight, Keane, Wills, Lofton). Steals -- ISU 2 (Eitel, Brown); ILS 8 (Lynch 2, Zeisloft 2, Lofton 2, Lee, Knight). Blocks -- ISU 2 (Brown, Moore); ILS 6 (Lynch 5, Samuel). Turnovers -- ISU 11 (Eitel 3, Moore 3, Arop, Gant, Smith, Odum, Moore); ILS 11 (Knight 4, Lynch 3, Keane 2, Zeisloft, Wills). Total fouls -- ISU 20, ILS 18. Technical foul -- Kitchell. A -- 4,684.
Next -- ISU (21-8, 12-5) plays host to Northern Iowa and Illinois State (16-13, 9-8) plays at Southern Illinois on Saturday.