Junior Darius Carter scored 10 points off the bench Saturday.Key statistics: The Shockers held Indiana State to eight baskets in each half, 16 of 51 (31.4 percent) shooting for the game. Four Sycamores starters (Arop, Gant, Odum, Moore) combined to make 4 of 18 shots and score 15 points.
How the game turned: The Shockers forced a five-second call on Manny Arop with 4:50 remaining in the first half to start a defensive blitz. Arop caught the ball near the three-point line, guarded by Ron Baker, and dribbled to the foul line. The other Shockers did a marvelous job of obstructing passing lanes, with Fred VanVleet keeping the ball from Khristian Smith and Darius Carter denying Justin Gant in the post, just a few feet from Arop. Tekele Cotton lurked to deny Jake Odum. Arop held the ball for eight seconds before the turnover. Carter deflected a post pass to ruin Indiana State’s next possession and a free throw by Chadrack Lufile gave WSU a 23-16 lead. Carter played solid defense to force a Gant travel and Baker’s jumper made it 25-16. The Sycamores committed three turnovers in the final five minutes of the first half and five more in the first three minutes of the second half to help WSU build a 36-22 lead.
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It is becoming easier to buy the notion that this team is better than last season’s team with each game. Perhaps a more accurate way to describe the difference is that this team is more consistent. Last season’s team was capable of spectacular highs (March) and puzzling lows (three straight losses). This team only deals in ups and that starts with starters Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton who: Do. Not. Commit. Turnovers. Last season’s team averaged turnovers on 19.4 percent of its possessions, according to Ken Pomeroy’s stats, which ranked No. 142 nationally. This season’s team averages turnovers on 14.5 percent of its possessions, 11th nationally. “I look at the guard-court,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “Those guys are tremendous competitors. They’re all three tough. They’re all three very, very smart and know how to play. They read the defense and make the right play virtually all the time. That’s a good a guard-court as there is in the country.” The argument for last season’s team would start with Carl Hall and continue with depth.I’m not sure why the Lufile starting/Carter off the bench arrangement works, but it does. It may be coincidence. Lufile’s confidence seems to be growing and he is using his physical gifts. As a starter, he averages 7.7 points and 7 rebounds. Carter is a better one-on-one scorer, which might fit better when he plays with some of the reserves. He scored 10 points Saturday, his second straight game in double figures and showed some moves he hadn’t previously. He also had a pretty assist to a cutter for a basket. It might be that two guys are comfortable in those roles. Or it might be that both are improving and , regardless of whether or not their name is announced.Lansing takes more blame for his team’s play than any coach I’ve been around consistently. It’s an endearing trait to see a coach protect his team as much as possible, even if it’s not always his fault, and it works as long as the fans don’t begin to believe it too much. “We’ve been talking for about a month about listening and getting better on a daily basis, and we haven’t done that,” he said. “The slippage is probably my fault. I’ll certainly have their attention now.” Lansing turned an unstable situation into a stable one with a lot of good work in Terre Haute. It’s the second-smallest city in the MVC and Indiana State’s enrollment of 11,494 is the smallest of the conference’s public schools. The Sycamores don’t play guarantee games at home, so they go on the road more than most. Lansing took over from Kevin McKenna in 2011 and has produced three winning seasons. Before Lansing, the Sycamores hadn’t had three straight since 1998-2001. As long as Lansing is around, it appears Indiana State will be an upper-level MVC team.Baker said his sprained left ankle continues to improve. He gave the crowd a scare in the second half when he went to the training room for a new tape job after aggravating the injury. “It’s still nagging at me,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said it was 100 percent, but it’s something I can play through.”WSU held MVC’s best outside shooting team (39 percent) to 5 of 20 from behind the arc. Without those shots falling, the Sycamores are much less dangerous. They don’t possess a great post-up game and WSU kept Odum from penetrating and breaking down the defense. “Our biggest thing was just to keep them off the three-point line,” Baker said. “That was the big thing, to play help defense when we ran them off the three-point line.”
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Next up: at Illinois State, 7 p.m. Wednesday (Cox 22)