News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

November 6, 2013

Eye on the prize: Game-to-game focus is what Indiana State men are seeking this year

TERRE HAUTE — There is a significant amount of buzz entering Indiana State’s 2013-14 men’s basketball season.

A less kind way to define buzz is to call it noise.

The noise comes from fans, alumni, the media ... even the Sycamores themselves at times. Some of the noise sings ISU’s praises, some raises doubt, but either way the way noise is ever-present.

In a fascinating 18-15 2013 season, the Sycamores learned that they have to take care of themselves and not worry about the noise.

“We think about that a lot. Coach [Greg Lansing] is always saying that what other people think doesn’t matter and we have to take every game at a time. We want to keep the same routine, we want focus to be an every-day thing instead of looking too far down the road,” guard Dawon Cummings said.

ISU’s players have tried to figure out the lessons of their 2013 season since it ended in the National Invitational Tournament at Iowa in March. For the most part, it was a positive campaign with wins over nationally heralded Mississippi, Miami, Wichita State and Creighton. Unfortunately, ISU’s seven losses in its last nine games kept the Sycamores from reaching their full potential.

“We had good preparation, but we psyched ourselves sometimes thinking that we were too good or that we weren’t good enough. We need to focus on our preparation this year more than anything,” guard Devonte Brown said.

Point guard Jake Odum stressed game-to-game focus. Like many of his teammates, the lesson taken from the high highs and the low lows of 2013 was that the team took its eye off the ball in that department. Odum also believes maintaining an even emotional keel is something that can be learned too.

“We can’t forget about some of the good times we had last year and some of the bad times. Say we go on a streak and win a few games in a row. We can’t forget how the season ended. If we lose a few in a row, we can’t let that bring us down,” Odum said.

ISU — which seeks its fifth straight winning season — has pieces to be excellent and the stars are seemingly aligned in the MVC to help the Sycamores realize lofty goals.

ISU has more players back (nine) than any other MVC team. ISU has scoring threats at all five of its starting positions. Moreover, the departure of Creighton from the MVC cleared the field for a new contender to emerge to challenge Wichita State. No team is better placed than the Sycamores to do it.

“I think we’re as deep and as talented as we’ve been since I’ve been here. We have good upperclassmen, but talented underclassmen,” Lansing said.

Odum (13.6 ppg, 4.6 assists) is back for his final go-around in a Sycamore uniform and he stirs the drink. Odum has always been an excellent distributor as well as a clutch shot-maker. What he strives to do in his senior season is to strike the right balance between when to give and when to take.

“I need to understand when I need to score, when I need to pass, and its tough to find that even with all of the minutes I’ve played,” Odum said. “It might be at a certain four-minute point of the game where I need to shoot or where I need to pass. It’s tough to find that medium and understand the time to take over.”

Some of Odum’s best moments have come in late-game situations — he hit the game-winning shot to beat Miami a year ago — and he wants that mentality to come to the fore at other points of the game.

“The one thing I do know is I want the ball at the end of the game. It’s what I look forward to. It’s what I live for. I want to take the last-minute-of-the-game mentality into early parts of the game,” Odum said.

The rest of ISU’s projected starting lineup all played significant minutes last season. Shooting guard Cummings (6.4), swingman Khristian Smith (5.1) and forward Manny Arop (12 ppg) are all seeking improvement in their second year of ISU action.

Forward Justin Gant (7.5) seeks consistency. It’s no accident that when ISU was at its best in 2013, it was when Gant was locked in.

“Through the first half of conference last year, Justin was at an all-conference level, but he was like a lot of guys where he hadn’t played that many minutes and games and he ran out of gas a little bit,” Lansing said. “Justin has come so far. He’s maturing, getting stronger, getting tougher. He’s a huge key for how good we can be. If he can take it to another level, our team can take it to another level.”

ISU has enviable depth. Sophomore guard Brown (3.8) proved to be a two-tool player off the bench a year ago with his defense and driving ability. Senior guard Lucas Eitel (4.1) is experienced and can get hot from 3-point range. Junior center Jake Kitchell (2.7) had his moments last season and gives ISU bulk in the paint.

Two newcomers in the paint — freshman T.J. Bell and junior college transfer Demetrius Moore — are being counted on to help. Sophomore swingman Brandon Burnett (1.7) should see more action this season and can become a solid scorer if he can get his shot to fall consistently.

True freshmen Brenton Scott and Alex Etherington could be redshirted. If not, both will find playing time hard to come by.

ISU’s schedule will challenge the Sycamores. There are just four home nonconference games with difficult trips to Belmont, Notre Dame and Saint Louis. ISU plays in the Great Alaska Shootout with a solid mid-major field, including Tulsa and Harvard.

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