USI/KWC rivalry ending

Zane Clodfelter

When the final buzzer sounded after No. 19 Southern Indiana defeated Kentucky Wesleyan 71-55 at the PAC Thursday, it signified not only the end of the game and regular season, but also the end of a rivalry.

With KWC leaving the GLVC after this season for the newly created Great Midwest Athletic Conference (GMAC), last week’s game marked the final time the two local rivals will meet in the regular season after 86 total meetings, dating back to their first game in 1976.

“Believe it or not, I know much about the history of this rivalry and from a coaching standpoint, I’ve never felt this way in my life,” Watson said. “You feel that you don’t want to let the community down.”

Through the years, KWC leads the all-time series against USI (49-37), but the Eagles had closed the gap, winning 12 of the last 17 meetings against the Panthers, including a sweep of KWC this season.

For Watson, it’s easy to feel the passion between the two schools.

“You go into this game and it means so much to our longtime loyal fans that you want your team to play at its best,” he said. “You feel that responsibility because there has been so much to this rivalry that it adds an extra element that I’ve never felt in my life.”

The history between KWC and USI goes a lot further than just the matchups on the hardwood.
Both schools had a large part in the creation of the GLVC when administrators from USI (then called Indiana State University-Evansville), KWC and Bellarmine had preliminary discussions about forming a basketball conference in 1972. Four years later, Indianapolis and St. Joseph’s (IN) also expressed interest in forming a new league and, along with Ashland, the conference was officially formed in 1978. The Eagles and Panthers have played against each other routinely ever since.

As a result of the Eagles’ sweep against the Panthers this season, USI retains possession of the trophy the two programs battled each other for on an annual basis – the Battle for the Bridge trophy.

“We should have the trophy forever now,” redshirt freshman guard Evan Brinkmeyer said.

He pointed out that an additional chapter in the rivalry could still be written this weekend in the GLVC tournament.

“We could meet (KWC) again in tournament so we need to be ready to play.”

Eagles junior forward Taylor Wischmeier said the mindset for the team going into each game against KWC was focusing on the game instead of the possible reward that came with beating the Panthers.

“You really aren’t thinking about the trophy during the game but afterwards, when you got the trophy, it felt pretty good,” Wischmeier said.