The University of Southern Indiana men's basketball team used a strong second half to climb out of a first half hole and defeat Saint Joseph's College, 90-81, Thursday evening at the Physical Activities Center. USI rises to 11-2 overall and 4-1 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, while Saint Joseph's goes to 4-8 overall, 2-3 GLVC.
The Screaming Eagles started slow offensively and defensively in the first half. USI shot only 20 percent through the first six minutes of game (3-15) and allowed Saint Joseph's to hit nine-of-15 three-point field goals during the first 20 minutes. The Pumas built a lead of nine points, 19-10, before the Eagles clamped down on the defensive end of the floor.
After finding itself down nine points, USI sophomore forward Austin Davis (Freeport, Illinois) ignited an 11-2 Eagles' run to tie the game, 21-21, with 9:45 left. Saint Joseph's would respond and re-extended its lead to as many as eight points, 43-35, with 2:07 left in the half.
The Eagles made a 6-1 push before halftime when senior guard Kenyon Smith (Chicago, Illinois) hit a three-point field goal and senior guard Melvin Little (Louisville, Kentucky) converted a three-point play to narrow the deficit to 44-41 at the intermission.
Senior center Keith DeWitt (High Point, North Carolina) ignited the Eagles' second half comeback with a dunk to start the final 20 minutes and pulled USI to within one point, 44-43. The senior would give the Eagles their first lead of the game, 45-44, with 19:20 left on a lay-up.
Saint Joseph's would regain the lead, 46-45, before USI used a 10-2 run to post a seven-point advantage, 55-48. The Pumas would claw their way back into the lead with an 8-0 run, 56-55, before USI took the lead for good, 57-56, on a bucket by junior forward Austin Nelson (Chicago Heights, Illinois) with 13:54 left.
The Eagles methodically extended the lead to eight points, 69-61, with 10 minutes remaining and would never lead by fewer than five points the rest of the way. USI increased the margin to double-digits three times in the final minutes, including its largest lead of the game, 90-78, with five seconds to play. The Pumas finished the scoring at 90-81 when they were granted a three-point field goal on a goaltending call with three ticks left on the clock.
Second half defense was key to the Eagles' victory as they forced nine turnovers and held the Pumas to just 34.2 percent from the field (13-38). USI also dominated the glass in the game, outrebounding Saint Joseph's 53-38.
Nelson paced the Eagles, individually, with his third double-double of the season on 15 points and 11 rebounds. He scored 11 of his 15 points during USI's second half comeback.
Davis followed Nelson in the scoring column with a season-high 14 points, including four first half three-point field goals. Smith and Little added 11 points each, while DeWitt rounded out the double-figure scorers with 10 points. DeWitt also grabbed seven rebounds.
USI concludes its short two-game homestand at 3:15 p.m. Saturday when it hosts the fifth-ranked University of Indianapolis. The Greyhounds lost for the first time this season and dropped to 14-1 overall, 4-1 in the GLVC, after losing at fourth-ranked Kentucky Wesleyan College, 79-69, tonight.
The Eagles hit the road to Owensboro Monday at 7:30 p.m. to play KWC and begin a three-game road swing.