ST. LOUIS —
If you listen to Evansville coach Marty Simmons, today’s Indiana State-Evansville Missouri Valley Conference Tournament game is a rematch that really isn’t one.
If you listen to the Sycamores, it’s very much a rematch and a chance for redemption.
The Sycamores and Purple Aces will lock horns at 3:35 p.m. today at Scottrade Center in a MVC tourney game that pits teams that played each other to close out the MVC regular season.
Evansville won going away at Ford Center last Saturday in an 84-68 victory. The Sycamores haven’t forgotten what ailed them at Evansville and are eager for another shot.
“Being that we recently lost to them, I like the fact we get kind of redemption game to erase what happened last time and make up for it. We’ve learned a lot from the mistakes that we made last game. Hopefully, we’ll learn from that,” ISU point guard Jake Odum said.
The elephant in the room is whether suspended ISU forward Manny Arop will play. Arop has missed the last two games due to an unspecific violation of team rules. ISU coach Greg Lansing has stated that Arop was “day to day.” Lansing has also stated that Arop would return this season.
Arop took part in ISU’s shootaround on Thursday at Scottrade Center and in ISU’s formal practice at Harris-Stowe College.
Simmons had little doubt that Arop would see the floor today.
“We anticipate Manny being back. The biggest thing is the anticipation of Manny playing from our standpoint. He’s a terrific player, a dynamic player, is so versatile and can do so many things for their basketball team,” Simmons said.
Arop’s absence in the previous game looms large over Evansville’s preparation for this one. When Arop was in the lineup during ISU’s 72-62 victory at Hulman Center on Jan. 19, he was 7 of 9 from the field and had a 19 points.
“We’re going to look out some of the things we did in the first previous two games. There’s a lot of variables to look at from our standpoint,” Simmons noted.
“Are there things we can do better? Or make an adjustment with different lineup and treat certain things differently. You treat it just like another game as far as preparation, but one of their better players didn’t play against us,” he added.
Paramount for ISU is improving its defense. After briefly leading in the early part of the second half at Evansville on Saturday, the Sycamores’ defensive resistance dissipated and the Aces went on to shoot 62.1 percent in the second half.
ISU coach Greg Lansing said the only difference in the Sycamores’ preparation for the Aces was more rest.
“We gave them Sunday off. We went hard and went at each other and we could actually scrimmage some on Monday. Other than Tuesday, I gave them Tuesday off,” said Lansing, who also explained his rationale with the rest.
“With the schedule we played, and the young guys we have, I’m not trying to give them an excuse, but I think we got tired. It’s because these guys have been hard-working in practice,” he explained.
Evansville also has the experience advantage with six seniors to just three upperclassmen (and no seniors) for the Sycamores.
Evansville also likely hasn’t forgotten the heartbreak it suffered when ISU knocked the Aces out of the 2011 MVC Tournament with a 52-50 victory via an Odum buzzer-beater. That win propelled ISU to the MVC Tournament championship.
No matter what’s on Evansville’s mind, Odum knows that ISU has to recover that which defined it during the good times this season and use it to maximum effect in St. Louis.
“It’s toughness. Something that we’ve showed we have this year and sometimes we haven’t showed it,” Odum said.
“Going back to our freshman year [when ISU won the MVC Tournament], you’ve got to fight every single session. We kind of focused in on every four minutes and won them to shorten the game. That’s something we’ve got to translate this weekend,” Odum added.
n Pulling out of a slump — ISU, which has lost five of its last six, isn’t the first MVC team be mired in a slump this season. In fact, the ebb and flow has hit nearly every conference member and the on-again, off-again nature has largely defined the MVC season.
Creighton, the league champion, was not immune. The Bluejays lost five of seven in late January/early February, including a 76-57 loss to ISU. Creighton coach Greg McDermott stressed that staying the course was the key to getting out of it.
“When you have 18,000 fans in every game, you’ve got a lot of assistant coaches that have ideas when things go bad. Because of the internet — and the power of the internet and Twitter and Facebook and everything — some of those things become prevalent in social media,” he said.
“It’s hard to put blinders on to that. Our message to the team was, ‘I don’t care what going on outside of our locker room. Inside of our locker room, we’re not going to point fingers and make any excuses. We have to get better.’ I think staying close enabled us to dig our way out of it,” McDermott said.
Illinois State started 0-6 in the MVC, but recovered to finish 8-10 and became the first 0-6 team to avoid the MVC Tournament play-in round. Illinois State coach Dan Muller echoed McDermott’s sentiments about staying the course.
“We actually went to some longer practices, some two-a-days, but stayed with our same philosophy and worked a lot more on the defensive end. I wanted to make sure our guys understood that I believed in them. They kept the faith,” Muller said.
n Marshall named Coach of the Year — Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall won his first Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year award with 23 first-place votes.
The Shockers finished second in the MVC after they were picked fifth in the preseason poll.
Greg McDermott (13 first-place votes) was second despite winning the MVC regular season championship. Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson (1) was third despite finishing last. Evansville’s Marty Simmons received two first-place votes and Bradley’s Geno Ford received one.
MVC Tournament — ISU vs. Evansville
Tipoff — 3:35 p.m. at Scottrade Center, St. Louis.
Broadcasts — TV: Fox Sports Midwest. Radio: WIBQ-FM 98.5. Twitter: @TribStarTodd
Last time out — ISU lost at Evansville 84-68 Saturday.
Series — ISU leads 83-75. The teams split the season series.
No. 5-seeded Indiana State Sycamores (17-13) — G Jake Odum (6-4, Jr., 14.4, 4.5 rpg, 4.7 apg), G Dawon Cummings (6-4, Jr., 6.6), G-F Khristian Smith (6-6, Fr., 5.4), F R.J. Mahurin (6-8, Jr., 10.5) and C Justin Gant (6-8, So., 7.3, 4.5 rpg) are possible starters. F Manny Arop (6-6, Jr., 12.6, 5.3 rpg), G Lucas Eitel (6-2, Jr., 4.3), G Devonte Brown (6-3, Fr., 3.6), F Jake Kitchell (6-10, So., 2.6), G Brandon Burnett (6-6, Fr., 1 ppg) and F-C Rhett Smith (6-7, Fr., 0 ppg) are key reserves.
Coach — Greg Lansing (55-42, 3rd year at ISU).
No. 4-seeded Evansville Purple Aces (18-13) — G Ned Cox (6-1, Sr., 11.1), G Troy Taylor (6-0, Sr., 6.6), G Adam Wing (6-4, Fr., 2.8), G-F Colt Ryan (6-5, Sr., 20 ppg) and C Egidijius Mockevicius (6-10, Fr., 5.4, 4.8 rpg) are possible starters. G D.J. Balentine (6-2, Fr.., 8.1), G Lewis Jones (6-3, Sr., 6.2), F Jaylon Moore (6-7, So., 3.8) and F Ryan Sawvell (6-8, So., 3.5) are key reserves.
Coach — Marty Simmons (85-101, 6th year at Evansville; 184-173, 12th season overall).
Injuries — For ISU, C Mike Samuels (foot) is out. F Manny Arop (suspension) is probable.
Next – The winner plays the winner of the Creighton-Bradley/Drake quarterfinal game at 2 p.m. Saturday in a MVC Tournament semifinal.