ISU women have improved defense dramatically

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza

Was ready for it: Indiana State’s Anna McKendree (23) attempts to steal a pass intended for Eastern Illinois guard Lariah Washington last Wednesday at Hulman Center.

Indiana State's women's basketball team doesn't have a Division I win to-date, but the Sycamores do have one trait it lacked a season ago — defense.

Has ISU's defense been world class? No, but it hasn't been bad, and it's a far cry better than the matador defense that was displayed in 2020-21.

Through three games, ISU is giving up 54 points per game. The proviso is that the number is skewed by only allowing 33 against non-Division I Stephens College in ISU opening game win, but even taking that game out, the Sycamores have conceded 64.5 points.

Compare that to 2021, when ISU gave up 75.8 points, one more point in conference play, and one can see the progress the Sycamores have made.

The bones of that improved defense are evident in ISU's other stats, which are slightly less opponent-dependent. The Sycamores' opponents have shot 34.2% from the field compared to 46% in 2021. The Sycamores are giving three fewer defensive rebounds a game. Part of Adrian Folks' early excellence is tied to rebounding. She has averaged 6.7 rebounds (eighth-best in the MVC) to go along with her 18.3 points per game.

The biggest improvement might be in turnover margin and it's companion statistic — steals. 

ISU has forced 26 turnovers per game, a statistic that is almost certainly inflated due to small sample size, but every other MVC school has similar strange numbers, and the Sycamores are tops in the league in forcing giveaways. That has also flipped ISU's turnover margin from negative territory in 2021 to plus-5.33 early on in the current campaign.

ISU has forced 14 steals per game, also best in the MVC. Anna McKendree leads the MVC in steals at 3.3. 

So far? ISU's offensive problems have prevented the Sycamores from turning their improved defense into victories, but the fundamentals are there for that to change. And there are three games this week that give the Sycamores the chance to get in the win column.

ISU plays at Western Kentucky on Wednesday. The Sycamores then trek further south to play Jacksonville State (Friday) and host Georgia Southern (Saturday) in the Georgia Southern Thanksgiving Classic.

The Hilltoppers (2-3) have only one Division I win — an 86-76 win over North Carolina Central on Nov. 12. WKU struggled in a tournament trip to Kansas State, losing by 32 to the hosts and by 16 to Tennessee-Martin. WKU turns the ball over 23.4 times per game, something that should play into the Sycamores' hands. Guard Meral Abdelgawad leads the Hilltoppers at 12.8 points.

Jacksonville State (2-2) also has just one Division I win — a three-point win at Samford. The Gamecocks average 66 points and are led by senior guard Imari Martin (13.3). 

Georgia Southern, 3-1 as of press time, has by far the best win of any of ISU foes — a 68-66 win at Auburn. Like ISU, Georgia Southern also forced a high number of turnovers at 22.5 per game, but the Eagles also give it up 24 times per game and the Eagles have held opponents to 37% shooting.

The Eagles have three players to stop guard Mya Burns (13 ppg), guard-forward Terran Ward (11 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and forward Eden Johnson (10.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg).

South Carolina State is also participating in the Georgia Southern Classic, but the Sycamores aren't scheduled to face them.

ISU women's basketball this week

• Game 1: ISU at Western Kentucky, Noon Wednesday.

• Game 2: ISU vs. Jackonsville State at Georgia Southern Classic, 3:30 p.m. Friday

• Game 3: ISU at Georgia Southern at Georgia Southern Classic, 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

• Radio: WZJK-FM (105.5).

• Records — ISU 1-2, WKU 2-3, Jacksonville State 2-2, Georgia Southern 3-1 (at press time).

• Next – ISU plays at Chicago State on Dec. 1.

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Todd Aaron Golden has been Sports Editor and Indiana State beat writer since September 2004. Born in Milwaukee but an Indiana resident most of his adult life, he previously worked in Jeffersonville, Columbus and Eau Claire, Wis.