TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – There may be no place like home in the Pit for the New Mexico Lobos.
But this ain’t bad, either.
When the No. 25 Lobos take the Hulman Center court today to play Indiana State, there is expected to be quite the contingent of UNM supporters. The game serves as a homecoming of sorts for not only head coach Steve Alford, an Indiana basketball legend, but for basically all members of the Lobos coaching staff, who will all have some tie or another sitting in the stands.
“All those guys, they’ve got a lot of good friends and family here,” said Indiana State head
coach Greg Lansing, who was an Alford assistant coach at Iowa for seven years. “I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know some of the people they know because of being on that (Iowa) staff. They’re going to have about as good a turnout on the road as you can have, but hopefully we’ll have a lot more fans turn out in blue so we can tell the good guys from the bad.”
Alford was a prep hoops star in New Castle, Ind., before going on to an All-American career at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he won a national title in 1987 under head coach Bobby Knight. Alford also had coaching experience in the state at Manchester (Ind.) College and coached against Indiana State and Indiana when he was the head coach at Southwest Missouri State – a Missouri Valley Conference school like Indiana State – and with the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten.
“I know that the fan base in Indiana is pretty charged to have him come back,” Missouri Valley Conference Commissioner Doug Elgin said. “It will be good to see old ‘Stevie Wonder’ back in the Mo Valley.”
But Alford is hardly the only one likely to see some familiar faces in the stands this afternoon.
UNM associate head coach Craig Neal is from nearby Washington, Ind., where he was a high school star before a college and pro career. Assistant coach Drew Adams grew up in Bloomington, where he was later an assistant coach at IU. Assistant coach Craig Snow was a college star at Evansville and graduated as one of the Missouri Valley Conference’s top 30 scorers of all time.
Even assistant coach Duane Broussard and video coordinator Brandon Mason have deep roots in the area. Broussard was a college star and then longtime assistant coach at Bradley in nearby Peoria, Ill., and Mason is from the Chicago area only a few minutes from the Indiana state line.
“There is quite a buzz in Terre Haute this week about the game,” Indiana State sports information director Ace Hunt wrote the Journal in an email.
Indiana State has averaged 4,787 fans in its three home games this season, but the school is optimistic today’s game may be in the 8,000-9,000 range in the 10,200-seat arena.
“It is going to be one of our better crowds at home in the past several seasons,” Hunt said.
OH YEAH, THE GAME: Alford holds a 7-2 record against Indiana State from his time coaching Southwest Missouri, and he is also very familiar with Lansing, who was an assistant at Iowa for seven of the eight years Alford coached there.
Both coaches are well aware of what to expect on the court today.
“I’m sure they’ll have some motion tendencies and they’ve been mostly man-to-man; whether they’ll play us some zone, we’ll wait and see,” Alford said. “There will be a lot of things that are similar.”
The Sycamores are led by 6-foot-4 junior guard Jake Odum, who was a second team All-MVC selection as a sophomore despite a knee injury that plagued him throughout the season. Odum is a slashing guard who is averaging 13.2 points per game.
Indiana State also boasts one of the nation’s top 3-point shooters off the bench in Lucas Eitel, who has hit 14 of the 19 3-pointers he’s attempted this season (73.7 percent).
Lansing likes his team, but isn’t sure it will be on par with the Lobos.
“He’s got coach Neal there, who is as good as I’ve ever seen in setting up an offensive plan and running things to get guys shots,” Lansing said. “We’re not going to be able to just wave a magic wand and just because I worked with the guy for seven years think that we have a better plan. They’ll be ready for us.”
KING CONNECTION: Former Lobos coach Bob King, whose name fans see on the Pit floor, not only coached the Lobos from 1962-72, but he coached at Indiana State from 1975-78 and was the coach responsible for recruiting Larry Bird to the Sycamores.
Health concerns forced King to step down before the 1978-79 season, the year the Sycamores and Bird played Magic Johnson’s Michigan State squad for the NCAA Championship.
SERIES: Despite all the connections between coaches and the programs, today marks the first meeting between Indiana State and UNM.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal