By: Zane Clodfelter
What started out as a back and forth contest throughout the first twenty-five minutes turned into a runaway Southern Indiana victory, as the ninth-ranked Eagles pulled away from gritty Philander Smith 103-82 behind a 16-0 run that extended USI’s lead from 5 to 21 in the early stages of the second half.
USI (4-0) was led offensively by juniors Taylor Wischmeier, who scored a career-high 28 points, and Aaron Nelson who contributed 23 points and 14 rebounds to the winning effort.
“I thought Aaron and Wisch(meier) worked beautifully together,” said USI head coach Rodney Watson. “Wischmeier finished remarkably well.”
The Eagles exploited a small Panthers (4-4) interior early and Wischmeier took full advantage of the game plan to pound the paint.
“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.”
Philander Smith stayed with the Eagles for the entire first 20 minutes, closing the half on a 7-0 run to pull to within four at the break, and then got even closer as Jaron Egbe hit a jumper to pull the Panthers within a basket at 53-51 a minute into the second half.
That sparked the Eagles, who then went on a 24-5 run behind Wischmeier and Nelson while in the process tiring out Philander Smith, who played only seven throughout the game compared to the 14 Eagles who saw the floor.
Nelson said once the Panthers pulled to within two points, the team knew what they had to do to finish the game.
“We had to turn up our intensity and we had to be stronger with the ball on offense,” Nelson said.
Watson gave credit to Philander Smith’s defense keeping the Eagles on their heels for the first half of the game.
“They forced us out of the offense and we had to go make plays,” Watson said. “There was no real design to the run.”
The Eagles have played well since their first game without big-man Keith DeWitt — a narrow 54-53 win over Urbana last week. 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.
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 got to bring it in practice every day,” Wischmeier said.
Watson said the thing that stood out to him was the flow of the game and how plays were created without thinking too hard about it.
“Tonight, we made the plays without running the plays,” Watson said.