SOUTH BEND —
Indiana State’s men’s basketball team is averaging 86.7 points per game, so plenty of Sycamores are getting in on the scoring act.
When it comes to sophomore Khristian Smith? It’s the timing that counts.
Fresh off a career-high 28 points at Belmont on Thursday, Smith contributed 15 in ISU’s 83-70 victory at Notre Dame on Sunday. The Indianapolis native wasn’t the Sycamores’ leading scorer, but he was undeniably the team’s spark in the first and second halves.
During’s ISU’s 12-2 first-half run that propelled the Sycamores to a double-digit lead over the Fighting Irish, Smith scored nine points in succession. He did it in nearly every manner possible: a putback dunk, a 19-footer, a mid-range jumper and a 3-pointer.
When Notre Dame wiped out a 10-point ISU halftime lead and led 45-44, it was Smith who came to the rescue. He hit a runner and a 19-footer to gave the flagging Sycamores a lift.
Smith is averaging 15 points per game and has given ISU its best sixth-man option in quite some time.
“He’s a starter on a lot of teams in the country,” ISU shooting guard Dawon Cummings said. “He’s a huge lift off the bench. He shot the ball well over the summer, and he’s improved his ball-handling. There’s not a lot of people playing better basketball than Khristian Smith.”
With his 6-foot-6, 215-pound build, Smith is hard to defend. He matches it with athleticism and a nice touch from long range.
Outside shooting is something Smith worked on relentlessly during the offseason — and it didn’t escape the notice of his teammates.
“He’s put the most time of anybody on the team in the gym,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said. “Its shows. When he’s hitting shots and scoring at will? We’re going to be a really good team.”
Defense comes first with the Sycamores, and as good as Smith has been offensively, he said the genesis of his excellent offense comes from defending.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the shots began to fall.
“Coach always tells me to stay aggressive regardless of whether shots are falling. He knows I can score. He wants me to shoot. He knows I can shoot,” Smith said. “That helps me on the defensive end, too. When my shot goes in, it keeps the team energized, it keeps me energized. When the shot is falling, it’s just a good day.”
ISU coach Greg Lansing praised Smith for his defense.
“Khristian’s been effective at both ends. Khristian scored some important buckets, and he’s a hard guy to defend, but he’s also played defense well,” Lansing said.
Smith is always ready to provide a smile, but he also has a quiet intensity that has served him well. It helped him when he sat a year out at ISU for academic reasons and he continues to push himself to get better. Originally recruited by Cincinnati and others, Smith has a lot of doubters to prove wrong.
So far, so good.
“He’s the personality of our team,” Lansing said. “He’s energetic. He’s always positive and he’s fun to be around. He’s improved tremendously and he has sparked us.”