The list of teams that have defeated the Vincennes University men in each of the last three years is short — Olney Central.
The Blue Knights ruined perfect seasons by the Trailblazers the past two years, and routed VU in Olney last month, 88-67. They have a chance to record the rare sweep of the Blazers at 7 p.m. today in a Region 24 basketball game at the P.E. Complex.
Eighth-ranked VU (23-3, 13-2 Region 24) isn’t used to losing, especially inside the region. But the honorable mention Blue Knights (20-4, 10-4) have held their own against the mighty Blazers. VU may draw inspiration from that to rise up tonight, but coach Todd Franklin noted his team has motivation from elsewhere to draw upon.
“This is a significant game for us. Olney, out of the remainder of the teams on our schedule, is in the highest position. We have a week off after this game and then face four clubs in the bottom half of the league. So this game, if we win, goes a long way of putting us where we want to be,” Franklin said.
The Blazers have won four straight and have their lineup in place, 6-6 sophomore Kevin Osawe (15.3 points per game), 6-1 sophomore Craig Porter (14.3), 6-7 sophomore Chinedu Okanu (11.4), 6-0 sophomore Chuka Mekkam (8.3) and 6-4 freshman Randy Tucker (6.8). Osawe had 20 in a 73-50 win at Southeastern Illinois on Saturday, but offensive worries remain as VU shot just 40% against the last-place team in the region.
“We can get shots and have a good idea of what we need to do. It comes down to getting some guys to put the ball in the hole,” Franklin said. “There was a part in the season where maybe we didn’t work at shooting hard enough. But when they do see their shots hit the bottom of the net now, it’s going to be more true for them because they’ve worked at it harder.
“Teams are defending us a certain way. If we hit the net at a better rate, it’s going to open a lot of things for us.”
Olney Central is the hotter team, bringing a six-game winning streak into tonight. That includes a 66-64 victory at Southwestern Illinois on Saturday, a team VU lost to three weeks ago. The Blue Knights have the region’s top scorer, 5-10 sophomore Jalen Moore (22.5), with 6-4 sophomore Nick Walker (10.7) and 6-8 freshman Elijah Farr (10.2) also in double figures.
“We have to handle Moore, who’s a handful. He can cause a multitude of problems with his driving, which can cause a ripple effect,” Franklin said. “Farr is playing well (at center). He can score from all levels and can drive it. He’s a different guy from what we’ve been facing and isn’t an easy answer.”
Tonight’s game is a good matchup between Olney’s offense and the Blazers’ defense, which is second in the country in points per game allowed at 59.5. The Blue Knights are one of two opponents who cleared 70 on VU, and did so easily, but the Blazers played their earlier meeting without its best defender, Porter.
“We weren’t full strength the last time, and they’re not going to face the same defense this time,” said Franklin, who went with a rare zone in the first meeting. “But give them credit, they beat the guys we had out there and seemed to really enjoy beating us.”
The honorable mention VU women (22-4, 13-1) take on Olney (14-11, 8-5) in the 5 p.m. region opener. The Blazers, who drummed Southeastern last Saturday, 109-63, are paced by 5-7 sophomore Jhala Henry (20.0), 6-3 sophomore Fess Hawkins (15.7), 5-5 sophomore Jaynice Stovall (14.9) and 5-6 freshman Amani Brown (13.8). They are second in the country at 90.9 points per game.
Region 24 men's standings
(Courtesy of Dave Hunter - WVUB radio)
John A. Logan|13-2|19-5
Lewis & Clark|5-8|12-9
Vincennes 73, Southeastern Illinois 50
John A. Logan 89, Lake Land 61
Kaskaskia 89, Lewis & Clark 85
Olney Central 66, Southwestern Illinois 64
Wabash Valley 82, Shawnee 69
Rend Lake 78, Lincoln Trail 77
Olney Central at Vincennes
Rend Lake at John A. Logan
Lake Land at Kaskaskia
Lewis & Clark at Southeastern Illinois
Wabash Valley at Lincoln Trail
Shawnee at Southwestern Illinois