DeWitt shines in debut as Eagles fall

Pat Hickey

Saturday night’s 73-55 loss against the University of Evansville marked the third straight year the USI men’s basketball team shot poorly against a Division I team in its preseason exhibition game.

However, the Eagles shot the ball better than they did compared to either last year’s game at Purdue or in 2010 against Illinois. In the loss to the Boilermakers, USI Head Coach Rodney Watson said that was the best defense his team would face all year. Against UE, a similar thought was held.

“I thought they pressured us as well as anyone we’ve ever seen,” Watson said. “It was really helpful for us. It was tough to get catches and get them where we wanted them. It was tough for us to get the ball moving with any fluidity.”

Of course, that’s why USI schedules exhibition games against superior competition. It should come as no surprise that the Eagles shot just 33.3 percent (22-66) from the field, including 2-15 from the three-point range. After all, the Eagles face the task of replacing 46 percent of its scoring from last year while also introducing seven newcomers to the system.

One of those additions – Southern Mississippi transfer student Keith DeWitt – immediately stood out for the Eagles. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound senior forward led the Eagles with 18 points and also pulled down seven rebounds – five on the offensive end – and three steals.

“I was surprised when they had a smaller guy on me,” DeWitt said. “I tried to make moves as fast as I could.”

“He’s talented,” Aces head coach Marty Simmons said. “He did a great job in the post. He did a great job on the glass. He showed a really good touch from the perimeter. And then defensively in there … he’s long and athletic, and when he’s not blocking shots, you know he’s there. He was very impressive.”

Equally encouraging in the frontcourt was Eagles junior forward Taylor Wischmeier, who had 13 points and five rebounds in just 22 minutes. Wischmeier slammed home a huge dunk and picked up the foul midway through the second half to cut the Eagles double-digit halftime deficit and make it a 43-42 game. However, the Aces would go on a 15-3 run in the next five minutes to pull away for good. USI did not have the lead at any point in the game.

Winless in its last 11 exhibition games against Division I teams since 2003, the Eagles still had plenty of positives to take away before its next game on Nov. 10 at home against Kentucky State. The Great Lakes Valley Conference’s top defensive and rebounding team last year, USI forced 20 Aces turnovers and were near even on the glass – 42 to 39.

“I thought our effort was terrific,” Watson said. “Obviously, we’re not exactly in sync with where we want to be. We didn’t finish the end of either half how we wanted to. That’s going to show up and help us. But, all in all, I thought we made a lot of strides and hopefully we’ll just take another step forward with it.”