OWENSBORO, Ky.—Division II athletics often go unnoticed. Even the biggest rivalries.
But when No. 5 Southern Indiana took on rival and No. 10 Kentucky Wesleyan on Thursday night, fans knew how big of a game it was.
And the contest lived up to its hype, remaining close all the way to the end as the Eagles of Southern Indiana pulled away with a 74-69 win.
But the win over an arch rival was secondary to what happened with just over four minutes left in the game.
Southern Indiana forward Jeron Lewis apparently got tangled up with a player and fell hard to the ground, hitting his head on the court, several eyewitnesses said. After his team stole the ball and began to run a fast break, the referees immediately called timeout when they saw Lewis lying on the ground, shaking uncontrollably.
Referees, coaches, and other officials in the building rushed to Lewis, who was reported unconscious the entire time. It took nearly 15 to 20 minutes for paramedics to respond to the scene, but when they did, Lewis was carted off the court on a stretcher, still unable to move.
After a nearly 30-minute delay, the game resumed play.
After the game was over, players, coaches, friends, and media officials were still uncertain of Lewis' condition.
Southern Indiana's first-year head coach Rodney Watson made an announcement after the game asking fans to keep Lewis in their prayers.
"He'll need it," he said.
But less than an hour after the game ended, Watson called his team and coaching staff in to the locker room to notify them that Lewis had passed away after taking the fall.
The real question here is why it took so long for medical help to arrive. There seemed to be no sense of urgency whatsoever from any medical official. When the paramedics arrived, they approached Lewis in a lackadaisical manner, not really in any hurry.
Many fans are wondering why there was no medical staff on site, as is standard at almost any sporting event. The only medical personnel to respond to the incident were team trainers and doctors who attended the game.
Lewis missed a couple of games around Christmas to enjoy the birth of a child.
The Great Lakes Valley Conference imposed a post-season ban on the Eagles this season for NCAA violations by former head coach Rick Herdes and are now forced to finish the season dealing with the death of one of their key contributors.