Get the ball to DeWitt (and Rutledge)

The first portion of that headline comes from USI men’s basketball coach Rodney Watson himself. After his Eagles lost at home to Wisconsin-Parkside on Saturday, that was one of the things he talked about afterward. But he wasn’t just saying he wants his players to lob the ball into the 6-foot-10 Keith DeWitt.

“We’ve got to get the ball reversed and get Keith more touches,” he said. “Right now we are a one-side-of-the-court team and we need to be a both-sides-of-the-court team.”

There’s plenty for the Eagles to figure out heading into their last five games of the regular season, and the competition seems to be in the same situation, something I address in my latest column here. DeWitt has been by far the most consistent player for USI over the last four games. He’s scored 20 points twice and three times has had double-doubles in points and rebounds and just missed a fourth on Saturday (he finished with eight rebounds). The problem is USI still has not found someone to make up for the points and rebounds lost when 6-8 Aaron Nelson (11.9 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game) went down for the season with a knee injury. Taylor Wischmeier scored only eight points in each loss and had two rebounds against Lewis and eight versus Parkside. Austin Davis had seven points and three rebounds against Lewis and zero points and three boards against Parkside. Manny Ogufolu totaled zero points and three rebounds versus Lewis and did not play against Parkside.

When an opponent only has to worry about DeWitt, it probably can afford to give him 20 points knowing that nobody else is going to cause much damage. This is where someone like Orlando Rutledge probably needs to become a consistent 18-to-20-point scorer. His last 20-point outburst was six games ago, at Parkside on Jan. 24. Since then he’s scored no more than 14 and he’s finished in single digits twice. And his 3-point shooting has all but vanished — in fact, he’s 0-for-9 over his last three games and took only one 3-point shot (and missed it) against Parkside.

Remember that Rutledge stands 6-6, making him all but impossible to guard beyond the arc. His regaining his shooting touch — especially from long range — may be the key to the rest of USI’s season.

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