ROMEOVILLE, IL (WFIE) - University of Southern Indiana Men’s Basketball held off a late charge from Ashland University, 66-60, in the first round of the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Saturday evening in Romeoville, Illinois. The Screaming Eagles, the fourth seed, rise to 23-8, while the Ashland Eagles, the fifth seed, ends the season with a 23-7 mark.
With the win, USI advances to the regional semifinals against at 7:30 p.m. Sunday against top-seeded and 15th-ranked Lewis University in the regional semifinals. Lewis won both meetings with USI in the 2018-19 regular season, but the Screaming Eagles hold the all-time series record of 46-27.
The Screaming Eagles and the Ashland Eagles traded buckets for the first nine minutes before USI used a 7-0 run to separate itself and posted its largest lead of the first half, 22-12, on a three-pointer by senior guard/forward Nate Hansen (Evansville, Indiana).
Ashland made a run, pulling to within three points, 26-23, but USI held on and took a 37-30 advantage into the intermission. Hansen led the Eagle scorers during the opening 20 minutes with 12 points.
In the second half, the Screaming Eagles methodically extended the lead through the first seven minutes, going up 12 points, 48-36, with another 7-0 run. USI would get the lead up to as many as 15 points, 54-39, with eight minutes left on the clock.
Ashland, however, was not ready for USI to walk away with the victory and used a 16-4 run to cut the Screaming Eagles margin to three points again, 58-55, with 2:03 to play in the contest. USI senior forward Jacob Norman (Evansville, Indiana) responded with a thunderous dunk to put the Screaming Eagles back up by five points and sank a pair of clutch free throws on the next possession to keep the margin at five points, 62-57.
USI would seal the game in the final 10 ticks as sophomore guard Mateo Rivera (Indianapolis, Indiana) hit four-straight free throws to put the Screaming Eagles in the victory circle, 66-60.
For the game in the scoring column, junior guard/forward Kobe Caldwell (Bowling Green, Kentucky) led four Screaming Eagles in double-figures with 15 points. Hansen followed with 14 points, while senior guard Alex Stein (Evansville, Indiana) and Rivera rounded out the double-digit scorers with 10 points each.
The victory is win number 226 for USI Head Coach Rodney Watson, who is five victories away from tying Bruce Pearl (231-46; 1992-2001) for the all-time USI career record for victories.