TERRE HAUTE —
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.
EIU likes to drive to the basket and plays a style of offense that will test some of the defensive things that ISU wants to improve upon through the month of December.
ISU (5-2) has had a week (four practices) after its 2-1 Great Alaska Shootout performance to try and iron some of the defensive issues out and it looks forward to seeing if its hard work pays off in Charleston, Ill., today.
“Every team we play watches film so there’s a lot of film out there on us making mistakes and plain getting beat. Eastern has seen that and driving a ball is a strength of theirs,” Lansing said. “We have to see the importance of every possession. It has to be important enough. It has to mean more to them.”
The Panthers (3-5) aren’t as high-flying as the Sycamores — EIU has averaged 62.8 points per game — and their record is deceiving as they have just one Division I triumph — an 86-66 win at Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 16. The Panthers have lost three in a row, including a 60-32 shellacking at the hands of Western Illinois on Wednesday.
But if the Sycamores can’t improve defensively, EIU has players who can punish ISU. Junior guard Reggie Smith averages 13.1 points. Fellow guard Alex Austin averages 9.1. EIU has also been a decent rebounding team — averaging 10.3 offensive boards per game — and ISU has not been strong keeping teams from second-chance points so far.
“We’re not finishing possessions with getting the ball. We call them 50/50 balls and we haven’t been getting those. That’s been a strength of ours and we haven’t been doing that. Any loose balls we need to get,” Lansing said.
Along with Butler, Eastern Illinois is ISU’s most oft-played opponent. The Sycamores and Panthers have clashed 122 times, but like some other series that were once annual affairs, EIU and ISU have not met in an uninterrupted fashion since 2005. The Sycamores defeated EIU 79-72 in 2011, but that was a one-off game. Former EIU coach Mike Miller was reluctant to continue the series, but current coach Jay Spoonhour seems more amenable.
Terre Haute and Charleston are an hour’s drive from the other. It’s a series Lansing would like to become a regular feature again. The Panthers do return the game at ISU next season.
“The previous staff [at EIU] just didn’t want to do it. Not that they were bad guys, but they felt they could do something for the same cost and have a better chance to get a win,” Lansing said. “It’s great for both sets of fans. It’s great on the budgets for both teams. We’re going to go over-and-back like a high school game which will save some money. I think it’s a no-brainer [to continue the series].”
As for the players, they downplay the notion that this is a rivalry game. They’re not enamored with looking at any game that way.
“We try to go into every game with the same mindset to respect our opponent. We try to approach each team like they’re the best in the country,” ISU forward Justin Gant said.
The Sycamores — who had the oddity of practicing in ISU Arena on Friday while a dance recital took place across the room — also took advantage of the rest the game-less week afforded them.
“A lot of guys are beat up. We spent a lot of time in treatment getting our bodies right,” ISU center Jake Kitchell said.
n Game time change — Because of EIU’s Football Championship Subdivison playoff game against Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon, the tipoff for ISU’s game was changed to 8 p.m. It was originally scheduled for 3 p.m., but conflicted with the playoff football game.
The game was originally to be televised on WTWO-TV, but when the game time was changed, it eliminated the broadcast.
ISU at Eastern Illinois
Tipoff — 8 p.m. today at Lantz Arena, Charleston, Ill.
Broadcasts — Radio: WIBQ-FM (98.5). Twitter: @TribStarTodd.
Last time out — ISU beat Pepperdine 73-70 last Saturday. Western Illinois defeated EIU 60-32 on Wednesday.
Series — ISU leads 88-34. ISU has won five in a row against EIU.
Indiana State Sycamores (5-2) — G Jake Odum (6-4, Sr., 13.5, 5.2 apg, 4.6 rpg), G Dawon Cummings (6-4, Sr., 10.9), G-F Manny Arop (6-6, Sr., 11 ppg); F Justin Gant (6-8, Jr., 13.9, 3.9 rpg) and C Jake Kitchell (6-10, Sr., 4.2) are possible starters. G Khristian Smith (6-6, So.., 10.4), G Devonte Brown (6-3, So.., 9.7), F Demetrius Moore (6-7, Jr., 4.6), G Lucas Eitel (6-2, Sr., 2.4), G Brandon Burnett (6-6, So., 1.3) and F T.J. Bell (6-8, Fr., 0 ppg) are key reserves.
Coach — Greg Lansing (61-46 at ISU, 4th year).
Eastern Illinois Panthers (3-5) — G Reggie Smith (6-0, Jr., 13.1), G Alex Austin (6-4, So., 9.1), F Sherman Blanford (6-6, Sr., 7.4), F Keenan Anderson (6-7, Jr., 5.8) and C Mat Piotrowski (7-2, Jr., 2.3) are the possible starters. G Dennis Green (6-3, Fr., 8.3), F Josh Piper (6-8, Jr., 4.3), C Luke Piotrowski (6-11, So., 4.3), G Dylan Chatman (6-1, Jr., 2.8) and G Zach Dickerson (6-3, Fr., 2.5) are key reserves.
Coach — Jay Spoonhour (14-25, 2nd season at EIU, 20-29, 3rd season overall).
Injuries and absences — For ISU, C Mike Samuels (foot) is out.
Next games — ISU plays at Missouri-Kansas City next Saturday. EIU plays at Wright State on Thursday.
— Todd Golden