TERRE HAUTE —
Even if Indiana State’s defense was playing at optimum level, the challenge presented by No. 21 Notre Dame would have been formidable for the Sycamores.
Alas, the Sycamores have been far from optimal.
ISU travels to play the Fighting Irish at noon today at the Joyce Center with tails firmly planted between their legs. The 96-95 loss to Belmont on Thursday was embarrassing on a lot of levels, but mostly, because the Sycamores offered no resistance on the defensive end.
ISU point guard Jake Odum said today’s game is a test of the Sycamores’ character. Can they bounce back?
“We’re going to have decide if we’re going to step up or take another loss. We’re really going to figure out how tough we are. I like that. I like to figure that out this early about our team. We had a bad showing, but we get to play a top 25 team three days later. We’ll see how tough we are,” Odum said.
Defensive problems sting particularly hard for coach Greg Lansing, who wants his teams to have a tough-minded defensive mentality. In ISU’s games notes, it lists that the Sycamores are 40-3 under Lansing when they hold an opponent under 63 points.
The Sycamores gave up 63 points in the second half alone against Belmont.
“We had to work on our flow to the ball. We watched the tape. We’re trying to hold guys to 63 in a game and that’s what we gave up in a half. We realized we stood around enough. We were in a stance when people were penetrating. We weren’t going to the ball and helping our teammates,” Odum said.
ISU has had two practices since the Belmont fold, and obviously, the focus was on defense. Nothing Lansing saw on film made him feel any better about how off-character the Sycamores were.
“It’s a slap in the face and I think the guys have taken it that way. We didn’t play defense at all in the second half. It was embarrassing. The guys are embarrassed, the staff is embarrassed, we just didn’t play hard,” Lansing said.
Lansing said ISU’s defensive improvement starts with effort, tenaciousness and communication.
Notre Dame will test ISU’s defense to the limit. The Irish (2-0) have one of the best backcourts in the nation. Guard Jerian Grant (20.5 points, 5.5 assists) is on the Wooden Award watch list and was a preseason all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection. Notre Dame is playing its inaugural season in the ACC.
Grant’s running mates include Eric Atkins (9 ppg, 5 apg) and swingman Pat Connaughton (10.5). Notre Dame shares the ball uncommonly well. Of Notre Dame’s 58 field goals this season, 43 were assisted.
Given ISU’s defensive problems in man-to-man, the obvious solution might be to switch to a zone set. Certainly, ISU was vulnerable in the paint against Belmont as the Bruins scored 44 points in the paint.
The problem with playing zone, at least a 2-3 zone, is that the Fighting Irish have converted 50 percent from 3-point range. Four Notre Dame players are shooting 50 percent or better from long range.
ISU might give a zone a look to change things up against the Irish, but its doubtful they’d play it for an extended period.
“Going zone might not be a good idea because they can hit some shots, but switching up defenses is the key. Maybe to have them stall out and waste 15 or 20 seconds of the shot clock will help us not have to guard for 35 seconds,” Odum said.
ISU has been dangerous on the offensive end. The Sycamores have converted 56.6 percent from 3-point range themselves.
With far more contact being called in the lane, ISU has held up its end at the free throw line. ISU has converted 41 of 49 attempts. Odum, who is averaging 20 points per game, has made 21 of 23 at the line.
ISU will get center Jake Kitchell back. Kitchell missed Thursday’s game after the birth of his daughter on Wednesday.
ISU seeks its second consecutive victory over an ACC foe. The Sycamores downed Miami in the Diamond Head Classic in December 2012.
ISU at Notre Dame
Tipoff — Noon today at Joyce Center, South Bend.
Broadcasts — TV: Fox Sports Indiana. Radio: WIBQ-FM (98.5). Twitter: @TribStarTodd.
Series — Notre Dame leads 2-0. The Fighting Irish most recently defeated ISU 81-72 during the 2010-11 season.
Last time out — ISU lost 96-95 to Belmont on Thursday. Notre Dame downed Stetson 80-49 on Nov. 10.
Indiana State Sycamores (1-1) — G Jake Odum (6-4, Sr., 20 ppg, 6 apg, 4.5 rpg), G Dawon Cummings (6-4, Sr., 16.5), G-F Manny Arop (6-6, Sr., 11.5); F Justin Gant (6-8, Jr., 6.5) and C Jake Kitchell (6-10, Sr., 7 ppg) are possible starters. G Khristian Smith (6-6, Fr., 15 ppg, 4 rpg), G Devonte Brown (6-3, So., 5.5), F Demetrius Moore (6-7, Jr., 5 ppg), G Lucas Eitel (6-2, Sr., 4 ppg), F T.J. Bell (6-8, Fr., 1 ppg) and G Brandon Burnett (6-6, So., 0 ppg) are key reserves.
Coach — Greg Lansing (57-45 at ISU, 4th year).
No. 21 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-0) — G Eric Atkins (6-2, Sr., 9 ppg, 5 apg); G Jerian Grant (6-5, Sr., 20.5, 5.5 apg); G-F Pat Connaughton (6-5, Jr., 10.5, 6.5 rpg); F Tom Knight (6-10, Sr., 8.5)and C Greg Sherman (6-11, Sr., 9 rpg, 6.5 rpg) are the possible starters. F Austin Burgett (6-9, So., 7 ppg); G Demetrius Jackson (6-1, Fr., 5.5) and F Zach Auguste (6-10, So., 5.5) are key reserves.
Coach — Mike Brey (287-142, 14th year at Notre Dame; 386-194, 19th year overall).
Injuries and absences — For ISU, C Mike Samuels (foot) is out.
Next games — ISU plays host to Truman State and Notre Dame plays host to Santa Clara on Friday.
— Todd Golden