Rubber game of the series on Sunday. One win each — USI dominating the Knights at the PAC, Bellarmine pummeling the Eagles at Knights Hall. But this time they’re on a very neutral floor, the O’Reilly Center at Drury University, six hours from Evansville and eight from Louisville.
So how do the USI players feel about this? They didn’t say much after their 79-70 victory over seventh-seeded Wayne State on Saturday afternoon. Mostly the usual: get the ball inside to 6-10 Keith DeWitt, get out on Bellarmine’s shooters around the 3-point arc. “Coach (Rodney Watson) talks about getting the ball low,” said junior Taylor Wischmeier.
So get the ball to DeWitt, who has scored 37 points and has grabbed 24 rebounds — 12 in each game — against the Knights. He also has hit 14 of 27 shots, but was just 7-for-19 in the loss at Louisville on Feb. 21. Yet, he is critical against a team with one main weakness: size, at least compared to USI. Yes, the Knights are quick, but I don’t think they pass as well as they did in each of the past two years. And they are subject to scoring lulls after they build big leads (sound familiar, Eagles fans?). They had a big lull against Indianapolis on Saturday after constructing an 18-point lead during which the Knights flat out squashed UIndy — then watched UIndy get back up off the floor and tie the score at 57-57 with 2:35 to play. Bellarmine didn’t sink a field goal the rest of the game, yet won because it sank 10 of 12 free throws while holding the Greyhounds to two baskets, the next to last one being the first but with Bellarmine already leading by seven with 17 seconds left. And the Knights won without leading scorer Chris Dowe, who had fouled out.
That was a rubber game, too. Now it’s USI’s turn. The question now is, which Eagles team will show up? Will it be the soul-crushing, run-and-gun squad that shot 51 percent, buried seven 3-pointers, sank 11 of 14 free throws, held Bellarmine to a season-low 49 points while sending Knights coach Scotty Davenport into a postgame rage in the 13-point Jan. 31 victory? Or will it be the timid, intimidated bunch that shot just 39 percent, went 3-for-12 from behind the arc and hit only 13 foul shots despite getting 21 chances in the 11-point defeat on Feb. 21?
What do I think? Frankly, I haven’t been able to get a good handle on this team. All I know for sure is that they have followed amazing games like Saturday’s — at one point in the second half, USI was 11-for-12 from the field, an incredible average of 91.7 percent — with some absolutely awful games. Remember that the back-to-back losses to Lewis and Wisconsin-Parkside — arguably the lowest low point of the season for the Eagles, a time when Watson honestly believed his team might not make the NCAA tournament — came one week after the celebrated win over Bellarmine.
Now they have a chance to redeem themselves and dump on the doubters. Well, we’ll see.