Eagles' offense starting to fly

Pat Hickey

With a long break from game action sitting on the horizon, eighth-ranked USI made the most of last weekend’s Bill Joergens Memorial Classic, sweeping University of Virginia at Wise and Philander Smith College (UVA-Wise) in dominating fashion.

The Eagles (4-0) utilized a staunch defensive effort in the opener of the weekend tournament, limiting UVA-Wise to just 28 percent shooting for the game while creating 18 Cavalier turnovers as the Eagles rolled to a 70-51 win.


“I thought midway through the first half we were really solid defensively,” said USI head coach Rodney Watson.

USI was led in scoring by junior guards Ben Jones, who scored 11 points on 5-for-10 shooting, and Lawrence Thomas, who added 10 points and three steals in just 18 minutes on the floor.

“We were able to advance the ball up the floor and get a big lead, and that led to giving some guys some significant minutes, and that’s really important for our team,” said Watson. “There was a good flow to the game.”

Watson said the game plan against UVA-Wise was to get as many players into the game to get productive minutes, and the plan worked to perfection.

“We wanted everyone to play heavy minutes,” Watson said. “That means guys had chances to make decisions with the ball.”

Thomas made his impact on the game early, contributing all of his scoring in the first half as the Eagles built their 35-12 halftime lead.

“We wanted to come out and create energy,” Thomas said. “We always want to come out with a chip on our shoulder.”

USI kept the chip on their shoulder in the finale of the classic, using a 16-0 run in the early stages of the second half as the Eagles blitzed Philander Smith 103-82.

Leading the way offensively for the Eagles were juniors Taylor Wischmeier, who scored a career-high 28 points, and Aaron Nelson, who contributed 23 points and 14 rebounds to the USI victory.

“I thought Aaron and Wisch(meier) worked beautifully together,” said USI head coach Rodney Watson. “Wischmeier finished remarkably well.”

USI set the tone early in the game, getting Wischmeier the ball down in paint, exploiting an undersized Panthers interior.

“I got a lot of wide open lay-ups,” said Wischmeier. “We always try to establish the inside game early and that opens up the guards for other jump shots.”

The Eagles have played well since their first game without big-man Keith DeWitt, with a narrow 54-53 win over Urbana two weeks ago. DeWitt is expected to return to the lineup at the end of December after missing the last three games with a knee injury.

USI returns to action in two weeks, when the Eagles welcome Notre Dame College to the Physical Activities Center on Dec. 8, before heading to Louisville to participate in the Fern Valley Hotel classic, which is set to begin next Friday.

Wischmeier said there are positives to a long layoff between games, including more time to prepare for upcoming final exams and chances to improve on the basketball floor.

“We’ve got to bring it in practice every day,” Wischmeier said.