Remember that scene in the great basketball flick “Hoosiers” where the Hickory team walks into an empty Butler Fieldhouse for the state finals for the first time and Gene Hackman, as the coach, has his players measure the height of the basket? His point is that the dimensions are exactly the same as the dimensions of Hickory’s home court. Well, technically that’s true, but it’s not nearly that simple. Every court’s shooting background is different, not to mention the tension of the rims, the liveliness or deadness of the floor, stuff like that. The point of this is that USI did not practice at McKendree before Saturday’s game. In fact, it did its shootaround back at USI before the team climbed on the bus to leave for Lebanon, Ill. I can completely understand why this was done — the trip was only a little more than two hours, letting your players spend the previous night in their own beds is always a good idea, not spending money when you don’t have to is a good idea (especially in Division II) and, let’s admit it, McKendree wasn’t going to be the most dangerous opponent on the USI schedule. But it took the Eagles an entire half to find their shooting eye, taking 41 shots in the first 20 minutes alone (while hitting only 17). They also had to get used to the nature of the gym. It was tiny, but the crowd was right on top of the game. From the video feed I was watching the place looked more like a middle school gym than even a high school gym. It was just very different from the PAC or anywhere else USI has played (with the exception of Maryville, which has a similar gym). Not that you can simulate a game in there during practice, but still, the facility was extremely unusual.
I don’t know. Saving money is pretty much the entire reason for being in D-II (that’s why teams stay in their own regions in the NCAA Tournament instead of being sent around the country to balance out the talent). But sometimes I think it can screw up a team. If USI had lost this game — and there was a distinct possibility until several minutes into the second half — I’m not sure the Eagles would have recovered.