TERRE HAUTE —
It’s appropriate that Missouri State is nicknamed the Bears. More so than ever as the Bears visit Hulman Center for a 7 p.m. men’s basketball game against Indiana State tonight.
A cornered animal is dangerous, a bear even more so, and Missouri State has been put into a corner by injuries to two of its most important contributors for tonight’s pivotal Missouri Valley Conference contest.
The Bears have been without the services of swingman Keith Pickens for the last two games. An important defender and scorer when healthy (he missed the entire 2011 season due to injury), Pickens has a shin injury and will not play tonight.
Missouri State would have been hamstrung enough without Pickens, but leading scorer and 2013 MVC Freshman Of The Year Marcus Marshall was added to the unavailable list Tuesday. The Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader reported that Marshall will have surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee today. He will miss an undetermined amount of games.
Despite the loss of two of its best players, Missouri State has proven to be wily when its roster has been hit with adversity.
“I don’t care if it’s LeBron James or Ace Hunt [ISU sports information director] in a Missouri State jersey tomorrow. They’re going to be coming after us and awfully difficult to play against,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said Tuesday.
To wit, Pickens and Marshall missed time together in the nonconference season with the same injuries. The Bears barely skipped a beat. Missouri State went 3-1 without Pickens and Marshall, its only loss in that stretch was on a neutral court to Virginia.
Missouri State coach Paul Lusk has a knack for finding the right combinations and also can surprise a team with a surprise contributor. Lusk was thrust into a similar situation in 2013 when Jarmar Gulley was lost for the season with a knee injury.
ISU found that out last season when forward Gavin Thurman made just his second career start in the Bears’ game at Hulman Center. He scored 18 points and gave the Sycamores fits before ISU edged Missouri State for a 68-60 victory Jan. 16, 2013.
Thurman could figure into Lusk’s plans again. When Pickens and Marshall were out in November and December, Missouri State went big with starters Emmanuel Addo and Tyler McCullough. Neither has played regular minutes of late with center Christian Kirk moving into the starting lineup and the Bears moving to a three-guard set. Given the matchup, it’s possible Thurman could get more playing time.
Or perhaps not. That’s the trick with Missouri State. You can never be sure.
“There’s a lot of guys on our scouting report. We’ll be prepared for everything. In my head, I think they might go bigger just because they did earlier in the year and had success,” Lansing said. “They can go small, we can go small. They can go bigger, we can go bigger. We’re not overly concerned because they do both during games anyway.”
Gulley has returned for the Bears (12-4, 2-2) and he’s been a vital contributor. He is the reigning MVC Player of the Week after averaging 20.5 points last week in two games, including a heartbreaking overtime loss to unbeaten Wichita State last Saturday after the Bears led by 19 in the second half.
Missouri State also shoots well from beyond the arc. Freshman Austin Ruder has converted 42.9 percent of his 3-point attempts. Senior Nathan Scheer is a threat off the bench.
“They’re a grind-it team like Evansville. They don’t screen as much, but a lot of movement and they try to keep you occupied so they can get isolation on one side of the floor,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said.
ISU is riding high on the strength of a six-game winning streak and are winners of 10 of their last 11 games. ISU (13-3 overall) is 4-0 in the MVC, its best conference start since 1979.
While Bradley gave ISU’s offense some problems before ISU recovered for a 62-59 victory last Saturday, there are signs that ISU’s defensive concentration is getting better. It likely saved the Sycamores last Saturday on a day when its shooting percentage floated in the 30s for much of the contest.
“It’s coming along. It shows we’re not one-dimensional. We can win games even when we aren’t making shots. We know our defense can win us a championship. This is about the time [in 2011] when we started to get better at it, so we need to keep grinding on that side of the floor,” Odum said.
The Sycamores certaintly have Lusk’s attention.
“They’re really good. I think they’re a NCAA Tournament team and have proven that to this point. They’ll be a great challenge for us,” Lusk said.
Missouri State at ISU
Tipoff — 7:05 p.m. at Hulman Center.
Broadcasts — Radio: WIBQ-FM (98.5). Twitter: @TribStarTodd.
Series — Missouri State leads 38-22. The teams split the series last season. ISU is 16-12 against MSU at home.
Last time out — ISU defeated Bradley 62-59 and Missouri State lost 72-69 to Wichita State in overtime last Saturday.
Indiana State Sycamores (13-3, 4-0) — G Jake Odum (6-4, Sr., 13 ppg, 4.9 apg, 4.6 rpg), G Dawon Cummings (6-4, Sr., 10.7), G-F Manny Arop (6-6, Sr., 12.2); F Justin Gant (6-8, Jr., 11.8) and F Demetrius Moore (6-7, Jr., 5 ppg) are possible starters. G Khristian Smith (6-6, So., 10.4), G Devonte Brown (6-3, So., 6.4), C Jake Kitchell (6-10, Jr., 3.1), G Lucas Eitel (6-2, Sr., 2.6), G Brandon Burnett (6-6, So., 1.7) and F T.J. Bell (6-8, Fr., 0.9) are key reserves.
Coach — Greg Lansing (69-47 at ISU, 4th year).
Missouri State Bears (12-4, 2-2) — G Dorrian Williams (6-3, So., 5.4), G Austin Ruder (6-3, Fr., 8.2), F Jarmar Gulley (6-5, Sr., 13.8, 5.6 rpg), F Gavin Thurman (6-7, So., 5.4) and C Christian Kirk (6-8, Jr., 6.9) are the possible starters. G-F Ron Mvouika (6-6, Jr., 5.7), F Emmanuel Addo (6-8, Sr., 5.5), G Nathan Scheer (6-5, Sr., 3.4), C Tyler McCullough (6-11, Fr., 3.2), G Devon Thomas (6-0, Fr., 3 ppg) are key reserves.
Coach — Paul Lusk (39-42 at MSU, 3rd year, 41-65 overall, 4th year).
Injuries and absences — For ISU, C Mike Samuels (foot) is out. G Jake Odum (knees) and G Devonte Brown (hip) are probable. For Missouri State, G Marcus Marshall (knee) and G-F Keith Pickens (shin) are out.
Next games — ISU plays at Wichita State and Missouri State plays at Northern Iowa on Saturday.
— Todd Golden