News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

December 18, 2013

‘Best team we’ve played’ awaits ISU tonight

TERRE HAUTE — A stretch of eight out of 10 games away from Hulman Center to start the season ends tonight as Indiana State’s men’s basketball team visits Saint Louis to face a strong Billikens squad before returning home this weekend.

Saint Louis (9-2) ranks No. 5 in the nation in points allowed (57.8 ppg). Coach Jim Crews’ team is allowing just 29-percent field-goal shooting and 26.6 percent from the 3-point arc.

It’s an eye-catching matchup for the Fox Sports Midwest audience, though, as Indiana State (7-2) ranks 15th in the nation with a 50-percent field-goal percentage and third in the nation with a 44.8-percent mark from the 3-point line.

The Billikens have been in the NCAA Tournament the past two years, and they’re coming off a school-record 28 win season.

“It’s definitely a good opportunity. It’s a resume builder. It’s a tough team on the road,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said. “A team similar to a Wichita State. They like to make you uncomfortable, get up in ya, and I think that’s something we need. That’s something we’re going to try to take advantage of their physicality, their aggressiveness and turn it against them.”

Crews, who played for Bob Knight on Indiana’s 1976 national championship team and had a long successful tenure as Evansville’s coach, took over for Rick Majerus as interim coach in 2012-13. Crews, who has former Hoosier great Calbert Cheaney on staff, was named national coach of the year by Sporting News after guiding his team to Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament titles.

“I have nothing but tremendous respect for him,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said. “He’s a great coach, was a great coach at Evansville. We’re not going to win any coaching battle in this game. We’re going to have to try to get our team as prepared as possible to go in there to compete against a very good team.”

The Billikens have led every minute of the last three games — home wins over Rockhurst and Wofford and a 67-65 win at Valparaiso — after dropping a Dec. 1 home game to Wichita State.

“Defensively, they’re so well-schooled. They’re super physical. It kind of seems that with the new rules [emphasis on contact], they haven’t changed,” Lansing said. “They don’t care about those rules. They’re going to be physical and do what they do.”

ISU forward Justin Gant said the big men are hoping to help match the home team’s hostile play.

“They’ve got some size. They’ve got some strong guys. We’ve got some size ourselves. As long as we stay aggressive inside and out and as long as we keep our confidence up and keep attacking the rim, we’re going to be alright,” Gant said. “Just trying to be strong with the ball, making more aggressive cuts and attacking the rim a little stronger. Trying to take contact on the drives and our finishes.”

The Sycamores will have the biggest challenge of the season yet, Lansing emphasized.

“They’re the best team we’ve played to this point. But the things that concern me the most, they’re probably the best defensive team we’ve played in a couple years,” Lansing said.

“They’re outstanding and well-schooled and they’re relentless. They’re as tough as tough can be. We’re going to have our hands full at both ends of the floor.”

As Odum said, a win would be a résumé builder for a potential NCAA Tournament at-large berth. It’s also about continuing to getting better, Lansing said.

“We were a little disappointed with how we’ve been playing, we’re disappointed in a couple one-point losses. But we’ve had some good wins,” Lansing said. “We’ve traveled over 10,000 miles and only played two home games and we’re 7-2. Our goal is and has been to get better every day. We didn’t want to peak before Christmas and I believe we haven’t and we can get a lot better.”

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