Who are you and what have you done with USI’s basketball team?

I think that’s what USI coach Rodney Watson may be thinking right now, but gratefully. After the Eagles deconstructed Lewis on Friday, winning 92-74 in the GLVC tourney quarterfinals, he seemed as bewildered as I did. We’ve all been watching. This is the same USI team that, for most of the season, couldn’t make up its mind whether to be serious or not. An outstanding game would be followed by a horrible game and vice versa. Now the Eagles have won seven of their last eight games.

But I think it really started with the victory over Bellarmine at home in the season finale on Feb. 27. USI fell behind by 16 points — and came back and won. The Eagles have been relentless ever since. It had trouble with Maryville, but the Saints — with their Princeton offense and matchup zone, two schemes few teams employ — often give everybody fits. And USI won anyway. Then it blasted Lewis with a performance that began with the eeriest pregame warmup I’ve ever witnessed — total silence except for the ball hitting the floor and the rim.

I tried to drag out of Lawrence Thomas, Aaron Nelson, Gavin Schumann and Taylor Wischmeier what was up with the warmup, but didn’t get a definite response. Maybe it’s not something that can be put into words. But a guy like Schumann, who sometimes seems happy go lucky, looked positively grim on Friday. He even shouted at his teammates about getting in a particular defense near the end of the game. This is the same Gavin Schumann who doesn’t seem to utter a word during a game (not that it matters when you’re as good a defensive player as he is). And when he gets his offensive game going — swooping in for layups, rebounds, tip-ins or suddenly zipping passes out to wide-open teammates on the wing or under the hoop — he gives opponents whiplash.

Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY,  on this team was locked in to beating Lewis. Now comes the hard part — Drury, the only team to beat USI at the PAC this season, winning by eight points. If the Eagles play like they did on Friday on Saturday, Drury is toast. And if they go on to win the GLVC tournament title, I’m not sure who can stop them all the way to the Elite Eight.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Enjoy the moment, USI fans. Listen to Rodney Watson.

“This was fun,” he said after the Lewis win. “These guys were fun to coach today.”

I can’t recall him ever saying that. It has to be a good sign, right?

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