University of Southern Indiana junior forward Orlando Rutledge (Louisville, Kentucky) had a perfect first half and dropped in a game-high 33 points as the Screaming Eagles advanced the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament championship game with an 81-62 win over the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Saturday afternoon at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana. USI, the third seed and ranked 18th-nationally, rises to 22-6 overall, while UW-Parkside, the second seed and ranked 17th in Division II, goes to 21-7.
Rutledge took command of the first half and propelled the Screaming Eagles to a 13-point halftime lead, 38-25. He was nearly 50 percent of USI's offense in the opening stanza as he scored 18 points on a perfect seven-of-seven from the field, three of the field goals from beyond the arc.
The Eagles led from the start of the game, jumping out to an 8-0 lead in the first three minutes of the contest. The lead would get to 11 points, 19-8, before the Eagles went cold and went nearly five minutes without a point.
UW-Parkside closed the gap to four points, 25-21, before USI closed out the half with a 13-4 run and posted its largest lead of the half, 13 points twice. USI junior guard Lawrence Thomas (Springfield, Illinois) got the final points of the half to put the Eagles up 38-25.
The low note of a strong first half for the Eagles was foul trouble for senior center Keith DeWitt (High Point, North Carolina) and junior forwardManny Ogunfolu (Rockport, Maryland) with three each.
USI came out on fire to start the second half, extending the lead to 22 points, 55-33, by shooting 75 percent from the field (6-8) in the first six minutes. The Rangers made a run at the Eagles, whittling the margin to 13 points, 66-53, but back-to-back buckets by DeWitt put the Eagles back in command. The Eagles would cruise in the final six minutes, outscoring the Rangers, 25-9, on their way to the 81-62 final.
Rutledge, who extended his shooting streak to nine-of-nine early in the second stanza, continued to roll in the final half, scoring 15 points. He would finish the game with a USI-conference tournament record 33 points, shooting 12-of-16 from the field, four-of-six from beyond the three-point arc, and five-of-seven from the line. The junior forward also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
The double-double is the third in a row for Rutledge, who is averaging 26 points and 11.1 rebounds in the last four contests.
In addition to Rutledge, DeWitt eclipsed the double-digit mark with 12 points, despite missing a lot of time to foul trouble. Ogunfolu rounded out the double-figure scorers with 10 points.
Senior guard Kenyon Smith(Chicago, Illinois) dished out a team-high eight assists and made three steals, while Thomas finished the game with nine points and five assists.
The victory sets up a showdown Sunday at 1 p.m. with top-seeded Drury University, who defeated fifth-seeded Bellarmine University, 69-62, in the first semifinal of the game. Drury, which is ranked eighth nationally, is 23-4 this year and was the GLVC West Division champion. The winner of the USI-Drury match-up receives an automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional.
Win or lose on Sunday, USI fans are invited to watch the NCAA Division II Tournament selection show with the Eagles Sunday night at 9:30 p.m. in the Varsity Club Room of the Physical Activities Center.