Eagles prepare for first round of NCAA tournament

Zane Clodfelter

As 2-seed Southern Indiana prepares for their NCAA Midwest Regional opener against 7-seed Wayne State Saturday (2:30cst tip), USI Head Coach Rodney Watson continues to see improvement from his players with the last leg of the season quickly approaching.

“We feel good about our team,” Watson said. “We’ve had so many changes of the roster with injuries like every team does so hopefully we have ourselves in a spot where we get a rhythm going.”

No. 15 USI (22-7, 13-5 GLVC) heads to their 18th NCAA tournament in the last 21 seasons after falling last Sunday to Drury, 65-71 in the GLVC championship game at the Ford Center. Despite the loss, Watson has confidence his team is peaking at the right time.

“I think offensively we are finally hitting some strides and figuring our team out,” Watson said. “We know our strengths and we are going to them.”

One of the strengths for the Eagles has been the interior play of junior forward Orlando Rutledge (21ppg in the GLVC tournament) and senior center Keith DeWitt (17ppg) as both were named to the GLVC All-Tournament team.

“Preparation is definitely the key,” DeWitt said. “When we are prepared we are very good.”

The Eagles are 7-0 all-time against their first round opponent Wayne State (17-9, 16-6 GLIAC), with two of those wins coming in the regional finals en route to championship game appearances in 1994 and 2004.

With USI practicing all week, Rutledge says the anticipation to play intensifies after every practice. “We are eager to get out and play the game,” he said. “We have practiced really hard and we are ready to get out there and play against other guys.”

Rutledge also notes the Eagles could have an advantage with this being the first time all season that the two teams have seen each other on the floor. “I think it’s a big advantage because they don’t know our plays like others in our conference who have played us so far this season.”

With the format in the regional being the same as last week’s GLVC tournament, 3 games in 4 days, Watson continues to preach the motto “one game at a time.”

“You have to stay in the moment and do what works for us,” Watson said. “I’m proud of these guys for hanging together and now its time to go and get their reward.”