Leftover notes, quotes and observations from Evansville’s win over UT Martin on Tuesday in the CIT semfinals (you can read my game story here).
1. D.J. Balentine got going early again and was dominant — again.
In each game of the CIT, Balentine has scored his first basket within the first couple of minutes and never looked back. On Tuesday, UE’s junior shooting guard sank a jump shot 16 seconds in and went on to post a game-high 28 points on 10 of 16 shooting, including 4 of 7 from long range.
UT Martin coach Heath Schroyer had plenty of praise for Balentine, who is torching CIT opponents for 30 points per game.
“I think the big thing is that he has a great IQ,” Schroyer said. “He’s stronger than people think, he has very high release so he’s able to score in midrange. He obviously can make the 3, and he’s better off the dribble, in person, than I thought.
“They do an unbelievable job in their motion of running him off all kinds of different screens but the think that I was most impressed with him, personally, is that he’s a great screener. … I think he’s a heck of a player and he’s gonna make a lot of money playing this game someday.”
2. Every Ace contributed something positive.
Let’s be clear: Evansville has played much better teams throughout the season than UT Martin. But even with that in mind, it may have been the most balanced performance I’ve seen from UE.
The only players who had subpar games by their standards were Egidijus Mockevicius (four points, seven rebounds) and Mislav Brzoja (zero points, three assists, seven rebounds, four turnovers). But Mockevicius only played 20 minutes and challenged plenty of shots at the rim while he was in. And Brzoja’s rebounding and passing helped the Aces even though he went scoreless.
Rather than me regurgitating every player’s statistics, check out the box score and take note of the assist totals from Duane Gibson and Blake Simmons and the scoring numbers of Adam Wing and, in limited minutes, Jaylon Brown and Jaylon Moore.
3. Simmons played perhaps his best half of the season.
It’s clear that Simmons, a 6-5 sophomore wing player, has put the shooting slump that hamstrung him late in the regular season behind him. In the first half Tuesday, he hit 4 of 6 field-goal attempts, including both of his 3-pointers. He also racked up five of his career-high seven assists in the opening frame, including one that drew the loudest cheer of the night from the Ford Center crowd.
On that play, Simmons leaped to meet a pass just before a UT Martin defender reached him and, before landing, whipped a no-look pass from beyond the 3-point line to Wing for a layup.
Simmons also had two of his three steals in the first half. He only went 1-for-6 from the field after the intermission, but his overall game was still solid based on the outstanding first half.
Now, some extra quotes from after Tuesday’s game and before Wednesday’s practice:
Marty Simmons, on UE’s strong play on the fast break Tuesday night: “We’ve really been emphasizing it with the 30-second shot clock even on made baskets we want to push it and put pressure on the defense. Our guys deserve the credit. I thought they got their hands on a lot of balls and knock it loose. They got out and ran well and we finished well in transition.”
Coach Simmons, on the play of his point guards (Gibson and Brown): “It’s kind of a two-headed monster there. Those guys are playing pretty darn good right now.”
Balentine, on the Aces bouncing back from a four-game losing streak entering the CIT: “It’s more mental. We just started off the tournament really well and that’s carried us. We understand we ended the season very badly and we wanted to change our route. We didn’t want to have a poor end to the season.”
Marty Simmons, on the chance to play for the CIT title: “It means a lot. I really think that our guys are excited just seeing people around Carson Center today buying tickets. It’s a chance to win a championship. I know both teams are really excited to be here.”