ISU works on honing focus for difficult trip to Bradley

Tribune-Star/Joseph C. GarzaChange of possession: Indiana State's Tyreke Key steals the ball from Drake's Anthony Murphy during the Sycamores' win on Wednesday at Hulman Center.

Once you get to the dog days of the college basketball season, something that would seem elementary becomes a tough choice for coaches as far as how they approach their season and their players.

How much time should a team practice?

There's risks both ways. Practice too much and your team becomes physically worn down and potentially more susceptible to injury. Practice too little and you risk not having the preparation time a team needs to handle their opponent.

Indiana State men's basketball coach Greg Lansing has been grappling with that issue in recent weeks. ISU heads to Bradley for a key 8 p.m. game Wednesday at Carver Arena for a key Missouri Valley Conference contest and Lansing wants to make sure the Sycamores are properly prepared.

"We have to sharpen things up. We made more defensive and scouting report mistakes on Saturday than we've made in a while and that can't happen. If you want a chance to win on the road, that can't happen," Lansing said.

ISU comes off a disappointing 74-67 loss at Illinois State last Saturday against a Redbirds team that had won only two MVC games to that point. The Sycamores seemed a step slow and didn't have the focus they had during their four-game win streak.

Because of nagging injuries and illness, Lansing wanted to limit practice time last week. ISU had two short practice sessions in the two days after the Sycamores routed Loyola 68-39 in a mid-week home game.

"We've had so many guys sick and so many injuries, we've gone shorter in practice because everyone has to take every rep. We went longer [on Tuesday] and did more teaching," said Lansing, who was asked what was taught. "Defensively, our communication has to be on-point and we have to guard guys the way we're scoring, whether it's hedging or going under a ball screen. Offensively, we were way too casual against Illinois State."

For their part, the players had regrets about last Saturday's loss. They felt they had turned the corner in terms of straightening out defensive slippage and slow downs on the offensive side of the floor, but both plagued ISU in the loss.

"We've been trying to attack each a little harder in practice to prepare us better. Coming off a loss we shouldn't have had, we didn't really play hard enough and pay attention to little details," ISU swingman Christian Williams said. "We were there in the top half of the conference and we needed a road win to get to plus-two [in terms of road wins versus home losses] and we didn't do it."

ISU guard Tyreke Key admitted the Sycamores let the guard down a bit at Redbird Arena last Saturday.

"We had to get back to the basics of where we were. We got lackadaisical in that last game. We're trying to stay focused and we're looking forward to the next one," Key said. "We had some slippage. Going to Bradley, a tough place to play, it comes to prep and focus."

Unlike the previous meeting against Bradley at Hulman Center, a 61-53 victory that started what became a four-game win streak, the Braves will be at full strength. Talisman point guard Darrell Brown, forward Elijah Childs and Ville Tahvanainen all missed the previous meeting and all are expected to play Wednesday. 

Brown has a particular thorn in ISU's side. He averaged 29 points in the two meetings last year.

Regardless of who plays, ISU will have to do a better job in its transition defense and its defensive rebounding. The Braves did both very well when they played at Hulman Center.

"We have to take care of the ball and not give them easy ones in transition. We have to get our defense back, and be set, and not give them easy ones," Lansing said.

ISU (14-9, 7-5) and Bradley (16-9, 7-5) are tied for fourth place in the MVC standings. An ISU win would give the Sycamores their first season sweep in Valley play. ISU wants to maintain the two-game gap it has to the MVC Tournament play-in zone in the bottom half of the league.

"We have to play like we did against Loyola, defensively. That was the best 40 minutes of defense we did all season," Key said.

ISU at Bradley

Tipoff — 8 p.m. Wednesday at Carver Arena, Peoria, Ill.

Broadcasts — TV: Fox Midwest/Indiana Plus. Webstream: ESPN+. Radio: WIBQ-FM (97.9). Twitter: @TribStarTodd.

Series — Bradley leads 52-38. ISU defeated the Braves 61-53 on Jan. 25 at Hulman Center.

Last time out – ISU lost at Illinois State 74-67 on Saturday. Bradley defeated Evansville 69-58 on Sunday.

The players

Indiana State Sycamores (14-9, 7-5) — G Jordan Barnes (5-11, Sr., 12.7), G Tyreke Key (6-2, Jr., 16.7, 4.9 rpg), G-F Christian Williams (6-5, Sr., 5.2), F Tre Williams (6-7, Fr., 7.6) and F Jake LaRavia (6-8, Fr., 8.8, 5.7 rpg) are possible starters. G-F Cooper Neese (6-4, So., 8.2), F-C Bronson Kessinger (6-8, Sr., 3.8), G Cam Bacote (6-3, So., 3.3), G-F Cobie Barnes (6-5, Fr., 2.1), G De’Avion Washington (6-3, So., 1.3) and G Keon Sellers (6-4, Fr., 0.5) are key reserves.

Coach— Greg Lansing (162-151 at ISU, 10th year).

Bradley Braves (16-9, 7-5) — G Darrell Brown (5-10, Sr., 14.8, 4.5 apg), G Nate Kennell (6-6, Sr., 12.4), G Ville Tahvanainen (6-4, Fr., 6.2), F Elijah Childs (6-7, Jr., 14.5, 9.2 rpg) and C Ari Boya (7-1, So., 3.6) are possible starters. F Ja'Shon Henry (6-6, So., 10 ppg, 6.1 rpg), G Danya Kingsby (6-1, Jr., 8 ppg), C Koch Bar (6-11, Sr., 6.5, 7.5 rpg) and G Antonio Thomas (6-2, Fr., 2.1) are key reserves.

Coach — Brian Wardle (74-84 at BU, 5th year; 169-149 overall, 10th year).

Injuries and absences – For ISU, C Chris Agbo (personal) is out.

Next games — ISU hosts Missouri State on Sunday. Bradley plays at Southern Illinois on Saturday.

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.

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