TERRE HAUTE —
For Indiana State’s men’s basketball team, these are hard times.
After entering February in the NCAA Tournament at-large and Missouri Valley Conference title conversation, respectively, the Sycamores have lost four of their last five games. Adding salt to the wounds is a suspension for second-leading scorer Manny Arop, a suspension that remains “indefinite”, according to ISU coach Greg Lansing.
The Sycamores have fallen off from the highs of early February, but it doesn’t mean they can’t climb up back again. That’s the attitude the Sycamores have to take into today’s regular season finale at Evansville.
The Sycamores are coming around to the idea that they’ve lost the identity that got them to such dizzying to begin with. ISU prides itself on grinding teams down with relentless effort, defensive prowess, rebounding and offensive movement.
“The conference tournament is a grind and that’s been our theme. We’ve kind of got away from that. We haven’t been too tough or grinded on teams. We have to get back to that,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said.
Grindability is what ISU wants to get back. Evansville (17-13, 9-8) is a team that also prides itself on grinding teams down and it would seem to be an opponent that can conjure that trait out of the Sycamores.
“It’ll be a good matchup for us. They’re probably the toughest team when it comes to competing and screening and moving as there is in the league. We’re going to have to bring it to beat them on their Senior Night,” Odum said.
For Odum, ISU’s dip in form is also a test of leadership. Without any seniors, Odum and the rest of the juniors are relied upon for leadership. It’s the hard times that test that trait.
“The team’s going to run on how the upperclassmen play and how we lead them, especially me and R.J. We have to set the tone early. I definitely didn’t do a good job of that in the last game. I take responsibility for that,” Odum said.
Meanwhile, Arop’s suspension is still “indefinite” according to Lansing.
Arop, who averages 12.7 points per game, is a key cog in ISU’s battle plan on both ends of the floor. Lansing would not say whether Arop would play on Saturday, but Arop did practice with the team prior to the Evansville game, and Lansing did confirm that Arop’s suspension would be lifted at some point and that he is still part of the team’s plans.
“He’s day-to-day, and as of right now, he’s indefinitely suspended. He’s still an important part of this team. The young man made a mistake and part of my bigger job of winning and losing games is to make them better men. We’ll go day-to-day with Manny for now,” said Lansing, who was then asked what Arop’s future status was.
“He’s going to be back with this team. There’s no doubt about that. We just have to decide that whatever did warrants how many games. We’ll make that decision as we go,” Lansing said.
Arop’s suspension has opened up minutes for others, most notably, Brandon Burnett. The redshirt freshman is still raw, but is getting his chance.
“He’s earned his minutes. We were trying to get him more minutes regardless of how Manny was playing. He’s been competing harder in practice everyday. At this point of the season, you have to use your bench. If you’re going to win three games in St. Louis is three days, you have to have a deep bench,” Lansing said.
ISU (17-12, 9-8) is assured of missing the Thursday play-in round of the MVC Tournament, but the Sycamores are still playing for a higher seed as well as a winning record in MVC play this season.
If the Sycamores beat Evansville and Illinois State defeats Northern Iowa, ISU will have the No. 3 seed at Arch Madness and would play at 9:35 p.m. Eastern Time next Friday against the Redbirds.
If any other scenario plays out in today’s MVC games, ISU will play as either the No. 4 or No. 5 seed against either Evansville or Northern Iowa with a 3:35 p.m. tipoff next Friday.
It is Senior Night for the Purple Aces. Evansville’s Colt Ryan, a 2,000-point career scorer and one-time ISU recruit, will play his final regular season home game tonight.