News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

January 24, 2014

Illinois State presents different challenge for Sycamores

Redbirds' four-guard lineup can make them dangerous

TERRE HAUTE — Illinois State and its four-guard lineup will present a different kind of challenge for Indiana State today as the Sycamore men host the Redbirds in a 6 p.m. Missouri Valley Conference game in Hulman Center.

Fortunately for the home team, its first 19 games have shown that it’s equipped to deal with several kinds of lineups and situations.

On paper, the visiting Redbirds don’t appear formidable. They start four players 6-foot-4 or smaller and their leading scorer, Daishon Knight, is 6-1, another guard who comes off the bench.

Don’t be deceived by the lack of size, Greg Lansing said Friday.

“They’re awfully talented,” the Sycamore coach said of the Redbirds. “Two of their three [MVC] losses were to Wichita, and they were 1 for 25 from 3-point range in the one they lost [to Wichita] at home. They are quick, they play both ends of the floor and they are very difficult to defend.”

Indiana State’s execution of zone offense will be tested too.

“We’re going to see 40 minutes of 2-3 zone [from Illinois State],” Lansing predicted, “and [the Redbirds] lead the league in steals. They do a lot of different things with their 2-3.”

If the Sycamores are tempted to use their size advantage inside, there’s no guarantee that will work either. The Redbirds’ post player, 6-10 freshman Reggie Lynch, is one of the better shot blockers around.

The visitors are deep enough to use nine players on a regular basis too, although in that category they have no advantage over the Sycamores. Lansing has been able to use 10, occasionally 11, players effectively, and there’s usually little or no dropoff when he goes to the bench. Wednesday night at Loyola, in fact, the bench almost certainly was the difference between winning and losing.

Khristian Smith is in the conversation — along with Knight — among the nation’s best sixth men, Devonte Brown has made more than one appearance on national highlight reels and Lucas Eitel, the team’s 10th-ranked scorer, had the key baskets in a close win over Bradley. On Wednesday night, it was Brandon Burnett’s turn.

Burnett, who passed Eitel to rank ninth on the team in scoring with a career-high 10 points in Chicago, helped Smith and the Sycamore bench overcame a miserable start by their team and keep Indiana State in the conference title chase.

“I don’t think any of [the bench players] have to win a game for us,” Lansing said Friday, “but they need to have positive minutes. They could all start in a lot of different places.”

Coming off the bench isn’t easy, Burnett acknowledged Friday, but the team he’s on makes it rewarding.

“A lot [of my success] comes from my teammates, giving me confidence and believing in me,” the sophomore said. “That way I can play relaxed and be free. The coaches believe in me as well.

“There are good players in front of me, and sometimes I get buried, so when I do get opportunities, I have to take advantage of them.”

Contributing to a big win, like he did on Wednesday, is a good feeling, Burnett indicated.

“We’re a family, on and off the court,” he said. “We all have each other’s backs, and the coaches are good people as well … that helps us build our chemistry on the court and helps us win some ballgames.”

“We need those guys to come in the affect the game in a positive way,” Lansing said, “and we have the luxury of having several guys who can and should do that.”

Indiana State’s 15-4 record — the best at this point of the season since the 1978-79 season, Lansing pointed out — is good, but no reason for celebration yet.

“We lost to good teams, but there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Burnett said. “That gives us a lot of excitement, seeing what we can do when we all have it together.”

“You are what your record is,” Lansing said, “but we know we can play a lot better on both ends of the floor. We’ve not put 40 minutes together yet.”

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