TERRE HAUTE —
After Indiana State’s 77-59 loss at Illinois State on Wednesday, ISU players had an idea of how the tone of Thursday and Friday’s practices would be prior to today’s regular-season finale against Northern Iowa.
“Everyone expected a bloodfest at practice after the back-to-back losses. Everyone was upset about [Wednesday’s loss],” ISU guard Dawon Cummings said.
It didn’t turn out that way. The ISU coaching staff and players instead elected to take a positive, but productive, approach to prepare for the Panthers and for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament next week.
ISU coach Greg Lansing explained his thought process.
“I went back and forth, we watched the tape two times coming back from Illinois State. I was disappointed with how we performed and how we played, but I’m going to ride with these guys. I still trust them,” Lansing said.
ISU senior guard Lucas Eitel knew that things weren’t right for the Sycamores. Yes, ISU has its first losing streak of the season, but it didn’t play well in the four-game win streak that came before it.
“We had to regroup. We lost two in a row for the first time all season and we could’ve gone several different directions. We could’ve gotten down and lost our confidence and kept on the direction we’re heading or we could pull it together, be positive and pick each other. That’s the direction we’ve chosen,” Eitel said.
“Coach came in and we really positive. We said, ‘it’s us and we want to make this season special. We don’t want it to end on a downward slide.’ It starts and ends with competing,” Eitel added.
Lansing admitted the team hasn’t played with the same verve since its 65-58 home loss to Wichita State on Feb. 5. The fact that the Sycamores have essentially had second place locked up for most of February didn’t help intensity either.
“We fell into a lull after the Wichita State game, we had second place and we didn’t play as determined as we need to. We’re going to have to tomorrow to have a chance. Tomorrow is our first tournament game,” Lansing said.
Tournament game or not, Northern Iowa will provide a stern test.
Unlike ISU’s 87-81 road win at McLeod Center on Feb. 1, the Panthers will have forward Nate Buss available. Buss has converted 48.1 percent of his 3-point attempts and averages 10.5 points per game. He helps spread defenses to create space for big man Seth Tuttle and penetrators Wes Washpun and Deon Mitchell.
“Buss makes them a lot different. You surround Tuttle — one the best big men in the league — with four players and it’s tough. This is going to be a different team coming in here,” Lansing said.
UNI is also playing for seeding at the MVC Tournament. The Panthers are currently in a three-way tie with Missouri State and Illinois State for third place. A win for UNI would likely gave it the No. 3 seed at Arch Madness as it holds the tiebreaker edge based on a sweep of Missouri State and a better nonconference strength of schedule than Illinois State.
It’s Senior Day for ISU seniors — Manny Arop, Cummings, Eitel and Odum. All have been key contributors, particularly Odum, one of ISU’s best-ever point guards.
Eitel, from Marshall, Ill., and Odum, from Terre Haute, had differing thoughts on how Senior Day would go in front of their hometown fans.
“I’m not expecting too much. I take it as just another game. At the end, I’ll realize it was probably my last game in here, but to me, it’s just another game, another job for us to get the momentum going and get ready for [next week]. That’s what I’m looking forward to,” Odum said.
“It’s kind of surreal it’s finally over after five years here. It’s a day of celebration to get the opportunity to play here for five years. It’s going to be emotional. I’m really thankful, especially for the local support I’ve had, it’s pretty special. Hopefully we can put on a show for those fans,” Eitel said.
Northern Iowa at ISU
Tipoff — 1 p.m. today at Hulman Center
Broadcasts — TV: ESPNU. Radio: WIBQ-FM 98.5. Twitter: @TribStarTodd.
Last time out — ISU lost 77-59 at Illinois State and Northern Iowa defeated Southern Illinois 73-54 on Wednesday.
Series — ISU leads 26-21. ISU is 16-6 against UNI at Hulman Center. ISU won 87-81 at UNI on Feb. 1.
Indiana State Sycamores (21-8, 12-5) — G Jake Odum (6-4, Sr., 12.9, 4.6 apg, 4.3 rpg), G Dawon Cummings (6-4, Sr., 10.2), G-F Manny Arop (6-6, Sr., 10.9), G-F Khristian Smith (6-6, So., 11 ppg) and F Justin Gant (6-8, Jr., 9.8, 4 rpg) are possible starters. G Devonte Brown (6-3, So., 5.1), F Demetrius Moore (6-7, Jr., 3.7), C Jake Kitchell (6-10, Jr., 3.1), G Lucas Eitel (6-2, Sr., 2.4), G Brandon Burnett (6-6, So., 2.1) and F T.J. Bell (6-8, Fr., 0.8) are key reserves.
Coach — Greg Lansing (77-52 at ISU, 4th year).
Northern Iowa Panthers (15-13, 8-8) — G Wes Washpun (6-1, So., 8.3), G Matt Bohannon (6-4, So., 10.1), G Deon Mitchell (6-1, Jr., 12.4), F Marvin Singleton (6-6, Jr., 3.5) and F Seth Tuttle (6-8, Jr., 15.1, 7.9 rpg) are the possible starters. F Nate Buss (6-9, Jr., 10.5), G Jeremy Morgan (6-5, Fr., 6 ppg), F Chip Rank (6-6, Sr., 5.5) and G Max Martino (6-5, Jr., 2.5) are key reserves.
Coach — Ben Jacobson (165-100, 8th year).
Injuries and absences — For ISU, C Mike Samuels (foot) is out. G Jake Odum (knees) and C Jake Kitchell (illness) are probable.
Next games — ISU and UNI will both play opponents to be determined in Friday’s quarterfinal round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
— Todd Golden