Missouri State coach Paul Lusk took some time Friday to discuss his team’s 2:05 p.m. Saturday game against UE at JHQ Arena.
Since a Jan. 2 overtime loss to the Aces, the Bears have gone 3-5 — two of those losses to nationally ranked Creighton. Lusk is also starting four freshmen along with senior guard Anthony Downing, Missouri State’s leading scorer. The Bears are by far the youngest team in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Lusk on his team’s progression since the last meeting with UE: “I just think everyone’s getting more experience. I think that’s been a key. At one time we played five freshmen at a time, so I think they’re just getting more experience. We’ve improved, but sometimes we don’t have wins to show for it. We’ve been pretty competitive really in every game this year except for the Creighton game both times in the second half.”
What prompted you to being starting four freshmen, and who’s surprised you? “We decided to make the change with Gavin (Thurman) because he had kept improving. He’s going to be a very, very good player for us as he gets more experience and becomes comfortable. We were starting three freshmen anyways, and then we just decided to start Andrew Wilson at the five and then Gavin at the four. That’s just the way it’s worked out.”
How does your motion offense compare to UE’s? “I think Evansville runs as good a motion as anyone in the country,” Lusk said. “I don’t know that you can compare it because they’re terrific at what they do. They have so many skilled guys on the floor. Plus they have a big post (Egidijus Mockevicius). We really struggled to score it inside. They’re just excellent at what they do with their motion offense.”
UE relies on a lot of off-the-ball screens and cuts. Is that your game plan, or do you ball screen more? “Last time we played Evansville we had changed some things, and we ended up having some success with some ball screen action. Evansville will ball screen sometimes. We try to get some decent player movement and some decent ball movement. I think the thing that separates Evansville from everyone else in the motion is their commitment to screen people. They really do a tremendous job of screening.”
How do you prepare for UE as the Aces go through a shooting slump? “It’s a grind when you play them because they have such great possessions offensively. We’re predominantly a man-to-man team, but I thought we did a pretty good job of guarding them up at their place. Anytime you have a Colt Ryan on your team, he can go and make plays. He’s as good as anyone moving without the ball, but when he gets it in his hands, with his size, he can make a pull up on you…Not that they’re random at what they do, but they just play. Marty (Simmons) really teaches them how to play. They don’t need a bunch of set plays. They’ll have a few set actions, but they’re just really good at reading the defense. Whatever you’re trying to take away, they’re going to counter that and probably expose you in some areas.”