USI basketball finds spark heading into OVC tournament with needed road win

USI basketball finds spark heading into OVC tournament with needed road win

Updated: 22 days, 21 hours, 20 minutes, 30 seconds ago

USI basketball finds spark heading into OVC tournament with needed road win

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Isaiah Swope and Trevor Lakes took over in the second half.

No one else on the University of Southern Indiana men’s basketball team reached the 10-point threshold until after the final media timeout. By then, Swope and Lakes both had over 20.

Swope and Lakes finished tied for a game-high 25 points while the former played the full 40 minutes.

“When we get those two guys clicking like they were tonight, we’re hard to beat,” coach Stan Gouard said. “Those two guys together, they’re a pretty good tandem. We need those guys to keep playing the way they did.”

The Screaming Eagles closed the regular season with a 93-81 win over Tennessee State on Saturday. The next time USI takes the floor will be 9 p.m. Wednesday at Ford Center against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.

Closing the regular season with a win has its benefits. While it ultimately didn’t change seeding or matchup, USI (16-15, 9-9 OVC) snapped a two-game skid heading into the postseason. Taking momentum from the win against the Tigers (18-13, 10-7) gives the Eagles something to build on ahead of the tournament. It also guarantees at least a .500 record in Year 1 of the Division I era.

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“I want more (wins). I’m greedy,” Gouard said. “At the same time, I’m proud of our guys for not hanging our heads when the going got tough. We had a couple of bad losing streaks and bounced back in a positive way.

“I’m so proud that we’re not under .500 because that’s gonna help us out in a lot of different ways, more than anybody knows.”

A player shouted “CBI” in the locker room while Gouard was being interviewed postgame. 

USI should receive a postseason invitation to the College Basketball Invitational, commonly known as the CBI. It's an incentive included with The Gotham Classic, which pitted USI against Notre Dame, St. Bonaventure and Bowling Green at the start of the season. The contract states USI will be included "if they have a win-loss record of .500 or better.” The CBI has an entry fee of $50,000. USI is not eligible for the NCAA tournament or NIT.

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SIUE snapped a four-game skid with a win Saturday over Southeast Missouri State. Both USI and the Cougars go into the tournament after breaking losing streaks. They split their regular-season series and will take the court at 9 p.m. Wednesday at Ford Center.

“They’ve got some good players and it’s always a good defensive game with them,” Lakes said. “That’s something we’re looking forward to. … We’re looking to bounce back from (the home loss) and win the series with them.”

Swope guarded OVC Player of the Year candidate Jr. Clay. While TSU’s main man scored 20 points, Swope forced him into three crucial turnovers.

His performance could bode well for USI in terms of guarding SIUE’s Dimarco Minor or Ray’Sean Taylor, both of whom are among the top players in the conference.

“(Clay is a) great player,” Swope said. “I’m just trying to do whatever my team needs me to do. If I have to guard the best player, then I’ll do it. It was a good challenge.”

Swope wanted the challenge of guarding Clay. That experience should help him going forward.

“When a player asks if he can guard someone, I give it to him,” Gouard said. “A lot of the credit goes to the coaching staff as well. They did a great job of putting together a great game plan and getting our guys prepared and ready to go.”

Both USI and SIUE go into the tournament on relatively level footing. While the Cougars have the higher seed, the Eagles could have a home-court advantage with the game being in Evansville. Whoever wins Wednesday will face Tennessee-Martin at 9 p.m. Thursday.

“We have to build on this,” Gouard said. “We needed it, that was one of the pregame messages as well. We needed the momentum heading into the conference tournament and what better way to get it on the road? We’ve struggled a lot on the road and this was a great confidence builder for us going into next week.”

Beating Tennessee State on the road in a hostile environment gives USI another season split. The Eagles shared wins with five of the nine other OVC teams. USI showed signs of improved defense despite the 81 conceded points against the Tigers, Lakes said. Pairing that with improved free-throw shooting should spell good things for the Eagles.

“(Those) have been our Achilles heel this month,” Lakes said. “That shows us if we take care of the stuff that we needed to, we win the game. I think that’s something that gives us some momentum rolling in.”

USI women look to future after season-ending win

The USI women’s basketball team wanted to finish its first Division I season the same way it started — with a win. The Eagles had their struggles in Year 1 with eight conference losses by fewer than 10 points.

With that, USI came into Saturday already eliminated from the OVC Tournament. The Eagles, however, achieved that opening goal of starting and finishing with wins. USI went into Gentry Center and got a season-ending 67-61 win over Tennessee State that snapped a streak of five consecutive road losses.

“I’m super proud of our bunch,” coach Rick Stein said. “Every time they made a run at us, we had an answer back, which I thought was huge.”

The Eagles (12-17, 6-12) now look ahead to next season. There were plenty of things to take from Year 1 — the need to cut turnovers, some of the shooting prowess — while continuing to build on the foundations set. Had USI won two more games, perhaps the four-point loss to the Tigers on Feb. 2, it would have made the conference tournament.

Stein lauded his team’s competitiveness as one of the main factors to build on. He complimented his senior class for helping create the foundation and has key returners, such as sophomore guard Vanessa Shafford, who can help build the program over the coming years.

“We took this year as a learning curve,” Shafford said. “We’re playing at a new level and just watching film, watching ways, each and every one of us can get better.

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“Now we know what to expect. I fully expect to take the experience part of it into next season.”

Leading scorer Hannah Haithcock leaves the biggest role to be filled. The senior forward leaves the program averaging 14.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in the team’s first season in D-I.

“Finishing on a win, that meant everything,” Haithcock said. “Ending on a good note, a high note, it was really important and it was exciting. … I hope the girls that come back next year are ready to build upon that and get some more dubs.”

Stein showed two emotions postgame: Happiness at the team’s competitiveness and disappointment that Saturday was the final game of the season. Both of those feelings will contribute to next season and beyond.

“(We are) laying the groundwork for what we can do as a program and how competitive we are and can be,” Stein said. “It’s hard to win at any level, it doesn’t matter. When you jump from Division II to Division I, how hard are wins? They’re really, really hard. This group never made excuses. … We never stepped away from any challenge and I give our team the credit on that.”