Oakland City coach Mike Sandifar took some time Sunday to talk about Tuesday’s game between the Division II Mighty Oaks and UE, which tips at 7:05 p.m. in the Ford Center.
Oakland City’s campus is about 30 miles from Evansville, and the two teams have played each other — whether as an exhibition or in the regular season — during all but one year since 2004.
Oakland City is 6-2 after a win Saturday over Valor Christian College. The Mighty Oaks actually play on Monday night, too, hosting Kent State University-Tuscarawas.
Sandifar on the UE series: “We’re going to play U of E as long as they’ll play us. We want to play them, and we think our schools — other than the obvious budgets and things — are a lot alike academically. They’re saying they’re graduating 90 percent of their guys, and we’re graduating 91.1 percent of our guys. We’re both private. We’re both Christian institutions.”
The Mighty Oaks’ roster lists three players from Evansville, as well as others from nearby Boonville, Princeton and Oakland City. Sandifar on their chance to play UE: “I don’t want to say it’s not one of the key games on our schedule, but they’re not sitting around worrying about it or thinking about, ‘Boy, this is a big challenge.’ I think it’s like any of the other people we play. They like playing in the Ford Center. They loved playing in Roberts Stadium. Any time we play a Division I — if I just asked our kids who we want to open up against next year, they would want U of E, they would want Kentucky, and then IU, then they’d want Louisville and end up with Duke and North Carolina. That’s just how kids are…They picture themselves there. I think, to a certain extent, U of E means they can show people, ‘I can play at that level.’ But if we go in there and get beat by 35, it doesn’t.”
The Mighty Oaks are led by senior Mitch Stahl, out of Spencer, Ind., who scored 19 points earlier this season against Austin Peay but had just nine against Valor Christian. “They worked really hard to keep the ball from him , but I was also disappointed — I told him before the year started, and he averaged something like 19 and 6 last year or 18 and 7 — I told him every time you play somebody, they’re going to keep the ball from you. You can’t score without it. You’re going to have to work hard.”
Sandifar said he’ll most prepare for the Aces’ defense: “I’ve felt that every since Marty got there, the University of Evansville has played the absolute best defense of any Division I program. He says, ‘Well, you haven’t seen them all.’ Don’t sell me too short. I’ve seen a lot of them. I watch IU two or three times a year in person. I always see Purdue once. We play three or four (Division I programs) a year. We’ve played as many as five…Nobody wants to lose by one or 20 — but even when UE gets beaten by 18, 19, 20 points, the other team doesn’t score 85 or 90. It’s in the 60s or low 70s. I just think UE plays great defense. They’re in your face. They get through screens. That will be our biggest obstacle, and it always is, is trying to run our offense against their great defense.”
This season, UE and Oakland City planned to play in November. It was moved to Tuesday when the Aces had to fill the original date with a Division I opponent. “It’s nobody’s fault,” Sandifar said. “U of E has to play who they have to play…whoever they played, that was because that was when that Division I team could play. All we hold them to is, we sure like to play, and we adjust our schedule accordingly…The bad news about playing Tuesday night is all of our students are gone. Our SGA bought 100 tickets every year just for our students, and that didn’t count the students who just came on their own and then the parents and that kind of thing. But this year, our students have been gone since Thursday. Our basketball team, we only had 300 people here (for Saturday’s game). We didn’t have five students here, so that probably won’t be as good as it is in the past.”
As far as injuries go, Sandifar said Oakland City may be without Harrison High School player Broch Hayes, who has a sprained meniscus and is out indefinitely, as well as Carmel High School grad Oscar Falodun, who missed Saturday’s game with a sprained ankle.