TERRE HAUTE —
When it comes to Indiana State’s big men, the numbers don’t lie.
R.J. Mahurin, Justin Gant and Jake Kitchell have combined to average 2.5 points in ISU’s last two contests. Gant’s five points scored against New Mexico on Dec. 1 constitute the entire total.
The ISU trio is 2 of 16 from the field in the last two games. They’ve also combined to average 5.6 rebounds per game.
“We haven’t been putting up the numbers that we want. We haven’t been rebounding well. And we don’t have many points in the paint.,” Gant said. “We’ve been focused on our post moves and our post defense. We have to be strong, we have to have balance in the post and we have to take good shots and hope they fall.”
That kind of production won’t cut it for the remainder of the season. ISU coach Greg Lansing believes there’s a few ways ISU’s problems in the paint can be solved.
“We have to throw the ball into them, and even if they’re not scoring themselves, they can create offense for the other guys,” said Lansing, who then emphasized a key point. “The big thing is if you’re in a shooting slump, get yourself to the free throw line. We have to post more, and not just shoot three’s, we have to throw it into them and they have to produce. Getting to the line is very important.”
As a team, ISU has been relatively successful in getting to the line, but the bigs aren’t necessarily the ones getting there. Mahurin has been to the line 26 times — second on the team — but Gant (19 attempts) and Kitchell (seven attempts) have not been nearly as often.
Part of it is that the Sycamores have not always made a commitment to get the ball inside for easy scoring opportunities.
“R.J.’s shooting three’s. Justin shoots jumpers. And when Kitch has been in, we haven’t got the ball to him a lot. It’s a combination of things. We have to make a conscious effort to throw it to all of them on the block. Then they have to go score. And when they’re on the perimeter, Justin and R.J. need to drive it more,” Lansing said.
Gant said there was nothing structurally flawed with the offense so the onus is on the Sycamores in the paint to execute their roles to a greater degree than they have.
“Our offense is set up good. We have to put ourselves in a good position to score. We have to work on our footwork and seal our man at the right time. It’s more of a mental thing,” Gant said.
ISU faces an IUPUI team that’s had a hard time maintaining consistency thanks primarily to injuries. The Jaguars recently regained the services of guard Ian Chiles, who has averaged 14 points in his two games. IUPUI has been without center Mitchell Patton — a former South Knox standout — who missed the last two games. Patton averages 14.6 points and his status is not known for tonight’s game.
“Todd [Howard, IUPUI coach] has done a great job with the injuries and stuff that they’ve had. They’re going to attack you off the dribble and doing a lot of ball-screening,” said Lansing, who also expects to see IUPUI switch up defenses on the Sycamores.
This game was intended to be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, as the ISU-IUPUI game in 2008 was, but arrangements fell through. So it will be played at IUPUI’s 1,215-capacity gym known as The Jungle.
ISU lost to IUPUI 72-70 in its only other trip to The Jungle in 2000.
While the cozy confines might prove to be an obstacle, Lansing thought the Sycamores handled another challenge well — balancing basketball and just-concluded exam week.
“The game hasn’t been played yet, but the guys have been good. We’ve had shooting times with them and we’ve had practice, but we’ve tried to get them in-and-out as much as possible to focus on their academics. They’ve been very attentive and working hard,” Lansing said.