TERRE HAUTE —
Though he was not one of the six active newcomers on Indiana State’s men’s basketball roster to start the season, it’s easy to forget that sophomore center Jake Kitchell was still on the upward climb on his own learning curve.
Kitchell played during the 2011-12 season, but averaged just seven minutes per game. He got his feet wet, but wasn’t ready to swim.
Early in the current season, Kitchell dog-paddled in choppy waters, but lately, he’s settled in calmer waters with a defined role … and he’s found his stroke too.
Kitchell has settled into being a consistent energy source in the paint off the bench for the Sycamores. He usually spells R.J. Mahurin or Justin Gant and has focused on using the motion offense to put himself in a good catching position in the paint to create easy scoring opportunities.
It’s bearing fruit for the Sycamores. Kitchell has converted nine of his last 10 field goal attempts. Included are two 4-for-4 performances — including one for eight points in ISU’s 72-62 victory over Evansville on Saturday. Kitchell’s offense helped get ISU pointed in the right direction after a slow start against the Purple Aces.
“I’m trying to stay within my role and find the open spots. With a guy like [point guard] Jake [Odum] you just need to be ready at all times. It’s easy when you can catch it under the basket,” Kitchell said.
One of the keys for Kitchell is that’s he stuck with trying to score in one way: quick hitters in the paint or via offensive rebounds. It fits the ISU offense to a tee as a post threat is a must to make the motion work correctly.
“When you ball-screen you have to threaten the front of the rim a lot. R.J. and Justin like to pop it more. Kitch will ball-screen and roll to the front of the rim. When he’s doing that, it shakes things loose for Jake to read,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
n Arop the shooter — ISU swingman Manny Arop can be electrifying and maddening … often in the same game, occasionally in the same possession.
Fear is not in Arop’s vocabulary when it comes to shooting. Sometimes it means accepting a bad or forced shot, but it also means reaping the rewards of a player who can score in multiple ways and is very difficult to defend given his long arms, his elasticity near the basket and his extremely high release on his jump shot.
“You have to understand that if you call a set for him, he’s going to get a shot,” Lansing said. “He doesn’t take that many bad ones and we need him to score. If he takes one bad shot out of nine? He still made seven. When he’s defending, I give him more freedom on the offensive end.”
Arop’s 19 points were crucial in ISU’s victory on Saturday. Thirteen were scored in the second half, including seven points in a row for ISU which helped it build its second-half lead.
Evansville coach Marty Simmons best summed up Arop’s value to the Sycamores.
“He’s an exciting player because he’s multi-dimensional. He’s making perimeter shots, he’s quick off the dribble, he can post up, he’s good in transition. His size and length is a definite advantage,” Simmons said.
• Four in a row over Evansville — For all of the respect that ISU gives Evansville when the teams play; the Sycamores have taken control of the series. ISU has won four in a row dating to its last-second victory in the 2011 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
Since 2011, the two Indiana MVC teams have been consistently average to good at the same time for the first time since the late 1990s/early 2000s. There’s been an intensity to the games, and while the rivalry would be defined more as friendly than fierce, it is a rivalry nonetheless.
“Anytime you’re playing a team in-state, you want to win, you want to win so bad,” Odum said. “We really want to get on them and win these games. [Beating an in-state team] helps our recruiting and our ranking in the conference.”
• Lansing wins 50th — Lansing won his 50th career game on Saturday in his 85th game in charge of the Sycamores’ program. Lansing is the 11th coach in ISU’s history to hit the mark.
Lansing is the quickest to hit the 50-win mark since Bill Hodges got to the half-century mark in his 67th game in charge of the ISU program in 1981.
EVANSVILLE (62) — Mockevicius 1-2 3-4 5, Jones 4-12 1-2 9, Taylor 4-9 3-3 11, Ryan 6-14 6-8 19, Cox 5-9 0-0 11, Sawvell 0-1 0-0 0, Nelson 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 1-2 1-2 3, Wing 2-4 0-0 4, Jahr 0-1 0-0 0, Balentine 0-5 0-0 0. Totals 23-59 FG, 14-19 FT, 62 TP.
INDIANA STATE (72) — Arop 7-9 4-4 19, Mahurin 3-7 0-1 7, Gant 1-5 1-3 4, Brown 1-5 2-3 4, Odum 4-5 9-12 17, Kitchell 4-4 0-1 8, Eitel 2-4 1-2 6, Cummings 1-5 2-2 5, K.Smith 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 24-46 FG, 19-28 FT, 72 TP.
Halftime score — UE 32-26. 3-point goals — UE 2-11 (Cox 1-4, Ryan 1-1, Balentine 0-3, Jones 0-2, Jahr 0-1), ISU 5-12 (Cummings 1-4, Eitel 1-3, Mahurin 1-2, Gant 1-2, Arop 1-1). Rebounds — UE 36 (Taylor 7, Mockevicius 6, Cox 5, Team 5, Moore 4, Jones 3, Sawvell 2, Ryan, Balentine), ISU 29 (Gant 7, Mahurin 4, Odum 4, Cummings 4, Team 3, Arop 2, Kitchell 2, Brown, Eitel, K.Smith). Assists — UE 14 (Taylor 5, Ryan 5, Cox 2, Mockevicius, Balentine), ISU 15 (Odum 6, Brown 3, Cummings 3, Arop, Mahurin, K.Smith). Steals — UE 4 (Ryan 2, Mockevicius, Wing), ISU 4 (Eitel 2, Gant, Brown). Blocks — UE 0, ISU 6 (Mahurin 3, Gant 2, Kitchell). Turnovers — UE 9 (Ryan 2, Cox 2, Balentine 2, Moore, Jahr, Team), ISU 10 (Odum 4, Arop 2, Gant, Brown, Cummings, K.Smith). Total fouls — UE 21, ISU 17. Fouled out — Jones. A — 6,444.
Next — ISU (12-6, 5-2) plays at Illinois State and Evansville (11-9, 4-3) plays Bradley on Wednesday.