News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Indiana State University

February 26, 2014

Sycamores basketball set for Illinois State

TERRE HAUTE — It’s no secret that Indiana State’s basketball team hasn’t shot the ball lately. It’s also no secret that tonight’s opponent — Illinois State — uses a 2-3 zone as its base defense and 2-3s have been to the Sycamores as silver bullets are to werewolves.

Even though the Sycamores have struggled to get shots to fall, they’ve also kept teams from making theirs too. Defense has long been the characteristic coach Greg Lansing has wanted his Sycamores to define themselves by, and lately, they’ve been living up to it.

After struggling during the nonconference season, ISU’s defense numbers are right where they’ve normally been in the Lansing era — in the top half of the Missouri Valley Conference. ISU is third in conference-only scoring defense at 64.3 points conceded per game. ISU is fourth in field-goal percentage defense at 43 percent and second in 3-point defense at 33.2 percent. ISU is also third in blocked shots at 4.3 per game.

It’s all helped ISU ride out some of their shooting struggles. Missouri State’s 44.7-percent shooting in last Saturday’s 77-66 Bears’ victory was the first time a team has shot better than ISU’s conference-only average since Feb. 9.

“We say it all of the time that defense has to be your constant because you’re not going to shoot it well at all times. Certainly, we haven’t shot it well lately and we’ve still managed to win games,” Lansing said.

One of ISU’s best defensive performances was in its 76-62 win over Illinois State on Jan. 25 at Hulman Center. The Redbirds shot 36.4 percent from the field and leading scorer Daishon Knight (13.1) tallied only eight points.

“They guarded us extremely well the first time. They’re playing man, so it’s not like it’s real complicated,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “One thing they can do is they have interchangeable parts so they can switch certain ball screens when they need to because they have big wings and they have athletic bigs at times. They just contest shots well.”

The Sycamores (21-7, 12-4) are pleased they shook off their early defensive woes to get back what they feel is their business.

“You think back to when we were at our most successful, when we made the 2011 NCAA Tournament, that’s because we beat Wichita State and Missouri State playing half-court, low-scoring, grind-it-out games. We understand that’s the way we win,” ISU senior guard Lucas Eitel said.

Illinois State (15-13, 8-8) has lost three of its last five games. Not coincidentally, all three losses were on the road. At Redbird Arena, Illinois State is 11-3 this season. Its only MVC home loss was to unbeaten Wichita State. Besides Knight, ISU also relies on quick guard Bobby Hunter (10.6) and likes to score in transition if it can.

“We have some key road wins, but they’re a difficult matchup. All of the different things they can do on the offensive end and they like to take turnovers and make it easy for them [to score]. We have to be very mindful with what we do with the ball in our hands and make them score against a set defense,” Lansing said.

Against most league opponents, Illinois State’s defense poses problems because its novel for a MVC team to use zone defense as its base defense. The Sycamores, however, have been seeing zone defenses from every opponent, including dyed-in-the-wool man defense teams like Evansville and Missouri State.

Can the fact that ISU has seen so much zone help them against Illinois State’s zone?

“You can say that, but the first time we played them, we shot 11 of 21 from 3-point range and hadn’t seen much zone,” Lansing said. “We’ve seen it a bunch, and maybe I’m stubborn, but I’m not really worried about it because we’re a better shooting team than what we’ve shot lately. We just have to share the basketball, play inside-out, and the ball will start going in a little bit more.”

If ISU wins tonight, it will reach the 13-win threshold in the MVC for just the third time in school history. ISU won 16 conference games in 1979 and won 14 in 2000.

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