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January 06, 2009

USI moves to eighth nationally
Eagles in the top 10 for the first time since 2007


EVANSVILLE, Ind. The University of Southern Indiana men's basketball team made a significant jump in the national rankings this week, rising 10 spots to eighth in the NABC/NCAA Division II Top 25 poll released today. The top-10 ranking is the first for the Screaming Eagles since they were 10th on March 6, 2007.

USI is on tap to play three-straight nationally-ranked teams, beginning with 19th-ranked Northern Kentucky University Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Physical Activities Center. The USI-NKU match-up ends a six-game homestand for the Screaming Eagles.

Following Thursday's showdown, the Eagles (14-2, 4-0 GLVC) will go on the road for the first time since the beginning of December when they travel to fifth-ranked Bellarmine University Saturday. Game time in Louisville is 7 p.m. (CST).

The third nationally-ranked team in the series will be the "Battle for the Bridge" when 20th-ranked Kentucky Wesleyan College visits the PAC January 15 at 7:30 p.m.

USI is currently the hottest team in the GLVC with a league best 13-game winning streak. The Eagles also are 11-0 at home this year and have won 13-straight at the PAC, dating back to last season.

Two key elements to USI's success during the streak and this year are its defense and bench.

Defensively, the Eagles have produced GLVC-leading numbers in blocks, steals, and rebounding margin on their way to holding the opposition to just 63.2 points per game. USI has held 14 of its 16 opponents to less than 70 points and six teams to less than 60 points.

USI's bench has been there all season for the Eagles. USI has only two players averaging over 20 minutes a game, compared to last year when five players averaged 24 or more minutes a contest.

The Eagles' top scorers also are coming off the bench. Junior guard Jamar Smith (Peoria, Illinois) has posted 13.3 points per game in his first three contests, while junior forward Brandon Russ (Cincinnati, Ohio) is dropping in 13.1 points per contest.

The Norse of Northern Kentucky (9-3, 2-1 GLVC) come to the PAC Thursday having won five of their last six, including a 72-60 victory over KWC on Sunday. NKU's only loss in the league has come at the hands of East-leading Bellarmine last Friday, 77-60.

Leading the Norse this season is sophomore guard Dustin Maquire and senior forward Leslie Malone with 15.0 and 12.0 points per contest. Malone also is posting 15.3 points per game in conference games.

USI leads the all-time series with NKU, 42-17, but the Norse won the only meeting last season, 78-62.

The Knights of Bellarmine (12-0, 3-0 GLVC), who host KWC on Thursday before playing the Eagles, start the week with the second-best winning-streak in the conference. Bellarmine is unbeaten so far this year, despite playing just two home games.

Freshman guard Braydon Hobbs leads the Knights with 15.4 points per game, while senior guard Chatrael Hall is second with 13.1 per contest. Sophomore guard Justin Benedetti is Bellarmine's top scorer against league opponents with 16.0 points per game.

USI had the advantage in the all-time series with Bellarmine, 42-25, but the Knights won the only meeting of 2008-09, 65-49, in Louisville.

Ray Simmons, USI Sports Information

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