Ahead of UE’s 1 p.m. Saturday BracketBusters game at Wright State (18-9), Raiders coach Billy Donlon discussed his team as well as matching up against the Aces (15-13) with just two days to prepare.
Donlon was a Wright State assistant before becoming head coach. He drew number of connections between the Raiders and UE entering the game: “I watched some (film) on the bus last night. I’m a little familiar because (former Wright State and now Clemson coach) Brad Brownell is from Evansville. He was an assistant at North Carolina-Wilmington when I played there, and then I worked there for eight years. He’s one of my best friends in life. He’s an incredible man. I think he was the GA at Evansville, and I think coach (Marty) Simmons was there in some capacity. And through coach Brunell, I’ve gotten to know coach Simmons. Then one of coach Simmons’ assistants (Carson Harris) coached in college with one of my assistants. And we recruited very heavily — tried very hard when I was here under coach Brownell – to get Colt Ryan. And we also recruited D.J. Balentine, so there’s a lot of kind of common denominators – common themes – between these places. But I have the utmost respect for Marty. He’s a phenomenal coach, and watching their team, it will be quite a challenge for our team.”
Since BracketBusters pairings were announced, Wright State has won four of its last five games. “So I’ve been pleased with where we are – with what our team has done,” Donlon said. “I love coaching these guys. They’ve been incredibly coach-able. They’re tough. They’re resilient. That’s what excites me about this game, because I’ve watched about two and a half games of Evansville and there’s a lot of things that jump out at you about the Aces. One thing I will tell you is the toughness and physicality with which they play – it’s an honor as a coach to compete against them on Saturday to see how we match up.”
But the Raiders will play without at least one key player — maybe two — due to recent injuries. Junior forward Cole Darling hurt his foot in Sunday’s practice and didn’t play during a 50-41 victory Wednesday at Cleveland State. “He’s our leading scorer and probably our best player – will not play Saturday,” Donlon said “He’s a 6-7 matchup problem for most teams, and like I tell most people is, he gets about 11 a game — but the way we defend and the way the possessions go, 11 a game is like 16 for most other teams. He’s a really good player, and he’s not playing. Next man up. I feel bad for Cole. I don’t feel bad for our team. (Sophomore) Reggie Arceneaux – our point guard who plays about 30 minutes a game, our second leading scorer – suffered a concussion nine days ago in our game at Valparaiso and has not done anything since. And his availability for the game is still to be determined for Saturday.”
Donlon on his team’s style: “We’re going to try to guard you. We’re not opposed to playing faster offensively. The hard part is, most teams it takes longer to get a shot off against us. It might take them 25, 30, 33 seconds to get a shot off against us. That’s going to limit the possessions. We don’t play helter skelter on offense, but if we have a good shot for one of our guys, we want to shoot. There’s a lot of different variables to why our scores are lower. That doesn’t mean teams can’t score on us. It’s going to be a challenge defending Evansville’s motion. And we do have to play a little differently than we have all season when you’re two guys down. So we’re still piecing that together ourselves.”
On facing UE’s offense: “Not a player in my locker room has ever seen Bob Knight motion. Not one player,” Donlon said. “They’ve never seen it their entire lives, and that’s what it is: coach Knight motion. That’s what they run. Coach Brunell, who I worked with for eight years, that’s what he ran. Me, as a coach, I’m very familiar with it. I know the time it takes to teach. I know how difficult it is to defend. College basketball is so much about the ball screen that I don’t think one time all year we talked about how to defend a flair screen. Maybe once in the preseason, but once the games are here we haven’t talked one time about a flair screen. Almost every possession against Evansville, you’re going to face a flair screen, a back screen, a pin-down screen – some sort of screen that’s off the ball. So yeah, we have our hands full in terms of preparation.”