News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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February 14, 2013

Growing pains hurt for Sycamores

SPRINGFIELD, MO. — Indiana State is a men’s basketball team that’s grown beyond its modest expectations.

The Sycamores played their way into a higher expectation bracket by clawing their way into first place in the Missouri Valley Conference last Saturday.

With those expectations re-calibrated, many had hoped the growing pains would stop and that ISU would rise to the challenge of a conference title run.

That didn’t happen Tuesday at Missouri State as ISU fell 67-65. The question of whether the Sycamores could handle being conference leaders was answered and it stung the Sycamores and ISU coach Greg Lansing.

“We’re a good team. We’re not a bunch of good individuals. Maybe they’ve done their own thing a little bit too much in the last couple of games. Maybe we’re not ready to compete for a regular-season championship, we’re probably not,” Lansing said.

The question of whether ISU was ready for conference contention was mentioned by Lansing to the team prior to Tuesday’s game.

“I told them, ‘You’re tied for first going into the game and are we ready? Are we ready to be one of those upper-tier teams?’ I know we’re a good team, but these are 18 to 22-year-old guys. I tell people who are disappointed with a loss like I am, ‘Sometimes you have a bad day at work.’ Sometimes you don’t do as well as you wanted to,” Lansing said.

ISU didn’t match Missouri State’s intensity until it mounted a comeback with just over four minutes to play. By then, the deficit, which had peaked at 14, made it too much of a hole for the Sycamores to emerge from.

It bothered the Sycamores that Missouri State afforded them the respect that ISU had earned as a conference leader with a strong effort against them. But when the time came to match the Bears’ effort, the Sycamores were left wanting.

“They were pushing it to us. They were taking good shots and getting good buckets. We just waited too long to respond to it. We didn’t put any force behind ourselves and didn’t push at it. We got it toward the end of the game, but we waited too long to do it,” ISU center Justin Gant said.

It’s another teaching moment for an ISU team that has played to the level of its competition all season long. It’s frustrating for the Sycamores that they continue to have to try and learn from losses.

But then, they call them growing “pains” for a reason.

“We keep thinking we’ve turned the corner. We had a good game against Creighton. We battled and beat Southern Illinois at home. Then we have another letdown. I’m not really sure what the problem is, but if you want to be a championship team, you can’t have letdowns like this on the road,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said.

Perhaps the desire to “turn the corner” is what’s hurting the Sycamores. On several occasions, when the team has felt its established itself, it suffers a loss that suggests otherwise.

“After the Creighton game, we maybe thought we were a little better than we were. We’ve had good practices and good preparation, but we haven’t taken it to the floor the way we need to,” Lansing said.

With four games left in MVC play, ISU (16-9, 9-5) is still alive in the conference championship race, even if it’s NCAA Tournament at-large possibilities suffered a significant blow.

ISU has road games left at Bradley and Evansville, along with home games against Wichita State and Drake. Each of those opponents presents a challenge the Sycamores must rise up to.

Lansing acknowledged that the Sycamores need to be more consistent, but he would not accept the notion that a loss at Missouri State should be considered a “bad loss” even if that’s how its perceived nationally.

“This isn’t a bad loss. [Missouri State] is a good basketball team and a very well-coached basketball team,” Lansing said. “We lost at Southern Illinois, we lost at Drake, we lost at Illinois State. Those are all good teams and they’ve shown it by beating other good teams.

“We’ve got nine wins in the league, we’re doing OK. But to contend for a championship, you have to be better night in and night out. I have to do a better job of getting these guys a little bit more locked in,” Lansing added.

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