Chad Lindskog and Pat Hickey discuss the University of Evansville’s stretch of super-efficient play while the University of Southern Indiana raised some eyebrows by starting GLVC play 2-0.
Sports / Courier & Press
EVANSVILLE — It’s understandable if University of Southern Indiana fans are cautiously optimistic about this year’s team.
The Eagles carried a six-game winning streak into the recent break for final exams after defeating a pair of conference opponents, Lewis and Indianapolis. They are limiting turnovers, finding ways to win when shots aren’t falling and finally getting the big men involved offensively.
Those are all positive indications of progress after an uncharacteristic 1-2 start.
USI (7-2) is also playing to the level of its competition, and that frustrates coach Rodney Watson, let alone passionate supporters.
The only thing standing between finals week and a trip to Las Vegas is Friday’s game against Urbana, a 1-9 team from Ohio that didn’t record a win until Tuesday. The Eagles are likely to extend their win streak to lucky No. 7 as long as they don’t overlook the Knights.
“If you buy into shutting a team out whether it’s Bellarmine, Indianapolis, Lewis or a team that’s 1-9, you’re set,” Watson said. “We can’t come into this game like, ‘Hey, man, this team hasn’t won anything, let’s get into rhythm as it goes along.’”
Well, USI essentially had that attitude during a three-game stretch against NAIA competition. The Eagles trailed at the half to Brescia, were down by as many as 13 to Fisk and went from up nine to down one late in the first half against Martin Methodist, which is still winless.
Another slow start Friday probably won’t kill the Eagles, who will have taken a 13-day hiatus for final exams. But it has all the makings of being a trap game. Just ask Watson.
“They’re the wounded animal in a trap — wounded animals will chew their leg off to get out of that trap,” he said. “That’s where they’re at and we have to spend time getting ready to play at a championship level regardless of who we’re playing.”
It’s human nature to judge a team based on its record. Everyone does it. You’re going to have more adrenaline against an undefeated opponent than a winless foe.
Despite less-than-stellar starts against those NAIA teams, the Eagles beat a pair of teams picked to finish higher in the Great Lakes Valley Conference East Division than them.
“While it looks kind of crummy like, ‘Oh, you’re just trying to schedule some wins,’” Watson said, “you’re trying to play some teams that are guard-oriented with mismatches in size and play zone, where most people don’t. And all that paid off for us.”
The Eagles practiced for about seven hours total last week. Their defense was then rusty once they returned to longer sessions this week, according to Watson.
This is a weird portion of the season for student-athletes, who are distracted by exams and reuniting with family to celebrate the holidays on top of the already demanding schedule of college basketball.
Davis Carter had a pair of senior-level finance exams before then undergoing Wednesday’s practice.
“Finals week is really demanding on kids and the farther you get from being in school, the more you forget about that,” Watson said.
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Urbana’s record isn’t good, but it also isn’t as bad as it seems. The Knights have lost to No. 7 West Liberty and No. 14 Wheeling Jesuit. USI, meanwhile, hasn’t played a ranked opponent and received just one point in the latest coaches poll.
The Eagles will play No. 12 West Texas A&M on Monday in Las Vegas. They shouldn’t have a problem getting pumped up for that one.
Friday? Maybe they pretend Urbana is someone else in order to play a complete 40 minutes and leave town with a convincing win.
“We have to set the tempo from the start and sustain it,” Watson said. “Because the next ones from here on in, the pace is going to be set whether we dictate it or not.”
Contact USI beat writer Chad Lindskog on Twitter @chadlindskog or by email at email@example.com