They're celebrating the end of challenging — to put it mildly — season-opening road trips with a rare doubleheader tonight in Hulman Center, and both Indiana State basketball teams are glad to be back.
The Sycamore men, who begin the evening at 5:30 p.m. against North Dakota State, have already had one game on their home court, a 62-55 win Saturday over Missouri-St. Louis. The ISU women, who host Marshall in the 8 p.m. nightcap, hadn't taken a single shot in Hulman Center prior to Monday afternoon's practice.
And women's coach Vicki Hall might be hoping her team has a slightly different beginning today than the men did on Saturday.
"We got off to a slow start," senior point guard Jordan Barnes said Monday when asked why the Sycamores had been played so closely by a Division II team (admittedly a good Division II team). "We were so excited to be back home, we got away from the tendencies we had in the Bahamas. But we turned it up in the second half."
The Bahamas — specifically the Junkanoo Jam — was the location for the beginning of a men's winning streak that's now three games after the UMSL win, and ISU brings a 3-4 record into their game with the Bison.
ISU's women come back from a three-game western trip with three straight losses (at Colorado, followed by a fourth-place finish at the Tiger Turkey Tipoff hosted by Pacific) and are 2-5 heading into the game with the Thundering Herd.
But remember, 13 of the 14 games played by Sycamore teams so far have been away from home. ISU's men have already faced Louisville, which is ranked No. 1 in the country as of Monday afternoon, and Dayton, which climbed into the top 25 this week at No. 19. ISU's women have lost to undefeated Power 5 teams from Kansas and Colorado; lost to a Western Illinois team that Hall said at the time was probably as good or better than Kansas; and lost to a Pacific team whose only loss has been to top-10 Oregon State.
"We wanted to challenge the guys," coach Greg Lansing of the men's team said Monday, and that challenge doesn't lessen much today.
"They were in the NCAA [Tournament] last year," Lansing said of the Bison, who beat North Carolina Central in a First Four game in March to earn a game against Duke. "All their starters are returning. They're a very veteran team that plays well together.
"They're a team similiar to what we want to be," Lansing added. "A balanced team."
The early schedule for the men, Barnes said, was "one of the toughest we've played since I've been here . . . it will help us, help us become stronger as a team. It will help us later in the season, when we have to play two road games [in the Missouri Valley Conference]. We're headed in the right direction."
"For the most part we've played hard," Lansing said, "but there are a lot of things we have to improve on. We have to make fewer mistakes."
And while the Sycamores have seen some legendary gyms and enjoyed some Caribbean sunshine, "We got worn down a little bit" by the travel, the coach added.
Hall and her team probably know the feeling, and the fact that every ISU player on the women's team is new to Division I basketball made things a little tougher.
"We're asking a lot of them in a short amount of time," Hall said of her players.
Saturday's loss to Cal State-Northridge in the third-place game in California has been the only real disappointment so far, Hall indicated, and that came a day after seeing the up-tempo pace of host Pacific.
"The Pacific game was a great learning experience," the coach said. "We're athletic and we're fast, but we still have to learn how to play at that pace. We got a great dose of medicine about what it's going to take to win in Division I basketball."
Pacific's pace and the long trip out west weren't the only things that tired the ISU women, Hall added.
"I think they're tired of losing," she said Monday. "We knew this would be a learning year . . . but everybody wants success today, and so do I."