ST. LOUIS, Mo. – As a coach whose team’s season had just ended, Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing was understandably dejected, but also plenty forthcoming and candid Thursday night.
His ninth-seeded Sycamores had just been the first team eliminated in the 2017 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, falling to No. 8 Evansville 83-72 in a first round game. ISU concluded an 11-20 season, its worst since posting an identical mark in 2004-05, and it had not looked good in its finale, falling behind big early before an admirable-if ultimately fruitless-effort to come back late.
“I hate saying it’s been a disappointing season because of the way I feel about the seniors and how much I love the seniors, but I know they’re disappointed too,” said Lansing afterwards. “They’re terrific guys that are going to have tons of success once they leave Indiana State. (Center) T.J. (Bell, who was seated next to Lansing at the time) is already in grad school. The rest of these guys are going to graduate and go on and do great things for their family for life.
“So I’m disappointed because of how good of people they are and how they represented us, but this is not Indiana State basketball and we’ve got to make some changes. We’ve got to be better. We weren’t good enough this year. Just more motivated to get to work and do what we need to do and to get this program better.
Indiana State was good enough last year to make it to the MVC Tournament semifinals. It was good enough this year to defeat Butler, a team that is well on its way to a very high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Lansing’s teams have always been competitive in the Valley, and more than not ranked towards the top, finishing in the top half of the league four times in his first five seasons. The highlights were a run through the Valley tourney to an NCAA Tournament berth in his rookie year, plus a runner-up finish in 2013-14 that resulted in an NIT bid.
In the last two years, though, there’s no denying ISU has slipped. The Sycamores tied for sixth last year, though a trip to the semis in Arch Madness indicated a team still in plenty of contact with the middle of the league.
That still might be the case this year, when teams 3 through 10 in the MVC were so close, but this season Indiana State tied for the basement in the Valley, too often on the wrong end in close games. The Sycamores lost 11 games by six points or less, including three in overtime. In truth, it was a team in a lot of close games, period (ISU also won six games by six or less, three in overtime), but it wouldn’t have taken much to turn an 11-win season into 17 or 18 wins, at least.
This final loss, though, was not close, at least not until late. Evansville jumped all over the Sycamores-offensively, defensively, and even on the glass, grabbing the game’s first 10 rebounds. Indiana State was down 25-9 by the second TV timeout and trailed by 26 at one point.
“Just really disappointed in how we started the game, I thought at both ends of the floor,” said Lansing. “For one, Evansville is much more aggressive than we were. They were playing much more like a team that wanted to play at noon tomorrow, and we were not.
“We were out of sync on offense, quick shooting, taking bad contested shots early in the possession on one or no passes, really fueled their transition. I think they had 17 points in the first half in transition. So we got behind big to start and were battling uphill the whole way.”
A flu bug that went through the team and resulted in starting guard Laquarious Paige not even coming to the arena certainly didn’t help, though neither Lansing nor his players were using that as an excuse after the game. Nor did the coach take much solace in a game comeback by his team, as ISU whittled a big second-half deficit all the way down to six in the final minute.
“It’s easy to play when you’re 20, 25 ahead,” said Lansing. “It’s easy to do that. If you have any competitiveness in you at all, you’re doing that from the start. So really disappointing. Really disappointing.
“I’ve got to be a lot better. I’ve allowed this. I’m the head coach, and I’ve allowed this. I’m not happy about it. I know some things that need to change and how I need to change and how our program needs to get back to being what we’ve been in our tenure.”
Lansing already has plenty of ideas just what those changes will be.
“We have to keep recruiting. We have to keep working on our roster,” he said. “I really like what we have coming in here to this point. We still have more guys to recruit. We’re going to do it. The staff’s been working their tail off. I’ve got a great staff.
“There hasn’t been many times in our tenure where we’ve made mistakes recruiting. There really hasn’t. We’ve gotten guys we’ve liked and been good players for us. We might have overvalued some at times, and maybe that happened to us a little bit this year.”
“But in the off-season, it’s got to be tougher,” he continued. “I think I said that last year. I’m going to be tougher on them, harder on them. And then you like the guys so much and they do work hard, then maybe I’m not-I don’t develop the leadership or the toughness that we need, and that’s not going to happen again. That will not happen. I’m going to be very hands on and involved in everything we do.
“These guys are good students. They’re great students. They represent us in every way in the community, but my job has to do with our record. Our record was not near good enough this year. We weren’t good enough, and that’s going to change.”