If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the Indiana State men's basketball team had plenty of time to grow fond of the home-court comfort they feel at Hulman Center.
With renovations in-progress at the facility, the building was strictly off-limits to both the men's and women's programs from the time their 2019 seasons ended last March.
On Friday, ISU got to practice at Hulman Center for the first time, and today, the Sycamores will open their home schedule as Division II Missouri-St. Louis visits at 2 p.m. It's the latest start to an ISU home season since 1995.
Unlike last year, when renovations were in their earliest stages, the arena does feel very much like an active construction site. The south side of Hulman Center will be off-limits to everyone as that is where the largest extent of construction is currently taking place. Seats will be covered in that area and fans will have to enter Hulman Center at the other portals.
For the players, the differences were negligible. Lighting was a tad different for practice in Hulman Center. The locker room is intact, though it's clear work there has been done.
The Sycamores were just happy to be back in their own building after months of practicing in the ISU Arena, sharing time with both volleyball and women's basketball. All three programs have had practice time compromised due to the inability to enter Hulman Center.
"It feels like a really long trip, but I'm excited to be back in here," ISU guard Cooper Neese said. "You definitely appreciate the home environment. The venues we played in this year were phenomenal, and it will only make us better, but you always appreciate being at home in front of your home fans."
"It feels really good to be back in here. I love being in here, I love playing in front of our home fans. Hopefully, we can get a few wins in here," ISU guard De'Avion Washington said. "Practicing at the Arena isn't like practicing here. You've got Larry Bird and Carl Nicks hanging on the wall. It's amazing we get to play here with those guys hanging over us."
The biggest concern is the dust from the construction. The most obvious dust has been cleared, but it's a pesky problem that isn't easy to get rid of.
Hulman Center's basketball floor was protected from the dust — and both arena and basketball staff want to keep it that way. Access to the floor will be restricted and players have been encouraged to stay on the carpets that keep shoes from collecting dust that would be transferred to the hardwood. Dust is obviously a problem if it accumulates as it could create hazardous slippery conditions.
On Friday, the players reported no difficulties with any slippage.
"Working with Fred Clark [Hulman Center Facilities Engineer], they've worked awfully hard in here. It's going to be fine. We practiced without issue. There's definitely dust all over the place and we don't want to track it anywhere," ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
As for the state of the Sycamores? ISU went 2-1 at the Junkanoo Jam with wins over Loyola Marymount and Air Force and a loss to Duquesne, a game in which ISU led for most of the second half before falling late. The Sycamores are still a work in progress.
"The Hulman Center is a lot like our team. The Hulman Center is under construction and the Sycamores are under construction. We're far from where we're going to be as a finished product," Lansing said.
UMSL (6-1) won't be a pushover. The Tritons played have played ISU as recently as 2017 when the Sycamores won 75-58. UMSL doesn't have a ton of size, but they have guards who can score and shoot. The Tritons have converted 42.8 percent of their 3-point shots. Swingman Jose Grubbs leads UMSL in scoring at 15.3 points per game. The Tritons have played one Division I opponent — Eastern Illinois — as EIU won 66-51 in Charleston, Ill. in what was an exhibition contest for both teams.
"I played Division II and those were our games of the year. Our guys have to understand and respect that," Lansing said.
Missouri-St. Louis at ISU
Tipoff — 2 p.m. today at Hulman Center.
Broadcasts — Webstream: ESPN3. Radio: WIBQ-FM 97.9. Twitter: @TribStarTodd.
Series — ISU leads 4-0. ISU won the last meeting in 2017.
Last time out – ISU defeated Air Force 84-74 on Sunday. UMSL beat Lincoln 76-59 on Wednesday.
Indiana State Sycamores (2-4) — G Jordan Barnes (5-11, Sr., 14.7), G Tyreke Key (6-2, Jr., 17.2), G-F Christian Williams (6-5, Sr., 5.5), F Tre Williams (6-7, Fr., 5 ppg) and F Jake LaRavia (6-8, Fr., 7.7) are possible starters. G-F Cooper Neese (6-4, So., 9.7), G Cam Bacote (6-3, So., 3.2), F-C Bronson Kessinger (6-8, Sr., 3.7), C Chris Agbo (6-8, Jr., 2.2), G De’Avion Washington (6-3, So., 1.8), G-F Cobie Barnes (6-5, Fr., 1 ppg), G Tyeshon Martin (6-0, So., 0 ppg) and G Keon Sellers (6-4, Fr.) are key reserves.
Coach — Greg Lansing (150-146 at ISU, 10th year).
Missouri-St. Louis Tritons (6-1) — G Steve Webb (6-2, So., 4.3), G Yaakema Rose Jr. (5-9, Jr., 11.7, 5.7 rpg), G-F Jose Grubbs (6-3, Jr., 15.6), F Jason Towery (6-5, Sr., 11.4) and F Jalen Wilkins-McCoy (6-5, Sr., 9.1) are possible starters. G Shane Wissink (6-0, Jr., 8.4), G Kenny Berry (6-2, Jr., 5.3), G Kellen King (6-4, So., 4.9), G Bobby Parker (6-4, Sr., 4 ppg) and G Isaiah Fuller (6-2, Fr., 2.5) are key reserves.
Coach — Bob Sundvold (98-80 at UMSL, 7th year; 222-189 overall, 15th season).
Injuries — For ISU, C Blake Brinkmeyer is indefinitely suspended.
Next games — ISU hosts North Dakota State and UMSL hosts Lindenwood on Tuesday.