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A few leftover observations and notes from Evansville’s 81-69 overtime victory Thursday against Ohio (read my game story here.)

1. Evansville’s 2-3 zone for several possessions in the second half was a nice change-up.

The Aces switched from a man-to-man to zone midway through the second half, and the different look was largely effective. After Ohio’s Javarez Willis hit a 3-pointer on one of the early zone possessions, the Aces stuck with it and went on an 11-0 run.

The switch in defenses made sense against a team that entered the game shooting 28.5 percent from 3-point range. When the Bobcats finally appeared to solve the zone, the Aces went back to man-to-man for the final stretch of regulation.

UE coach Marty Simmons credited his assistant coaches for the decision to switch to the 2-3, and added that his players were able to carry over the intensity that they had in the zone back to man-to-man.

2. The free-throw disparity looks more dramatic than it actually seemed.

Evansville shot 23 of 28 from the foul line compared to 2 of 3 for Ohio. That’s a huge difference in the game, but in the flow of the contest, it didn’t seem like all the calls were going one way.

There weren’t any controversial block-charge calls or blatant no-calls; Ohio picked up several fouls trying to crash the boards and UE reached the bonus midway through the second half while Ohio didn’t reach the bonus until overtime.

That — and the two Ohio technical foul calls that gave Evansville four early free throws — is what primarily contributed to the disparity. The Aces may have had a couple more of those off-the-ball or rebounding contact calls go their way, but it seemed like a fairly well-officiated game.

A big moment in the game was when Ohio’s Antonio Campbell fouled out with 1:50 left in regulation. The 6-foot-8, 260-pounder was a tough matchup for UE with his shooting range. He went 4-for-7 from the field and 2-for-3 from 3-point range in scoring 10 points.

3. UE changed its starting lineup for the first time this season.

Sophomore point guard Jaylon Brown replaced classmate Duane Gibson in the Aces’ starting lineup.

“Boo had been out a couple days with some back spasms, missed a couple days of practice,” Marty Simmons said Friday. “More than anything, we just tried to change things up a little bit.”

Brown and Gibson have split time evenly all season and the starting designation likely won’t change that. However, Brown has slightly outperformed Gibson in nearly every statistical category, so maybe UE’s coaching staff took note of that and will continue to start Brown.

Simmons rarely shares much insight on potential lineup changes, so it will be something to keep an eye on in the Aces’ next few games.

4. Adam Wing did a solid job defending Ohio’s Maurice Ndour.

The 6-foot-4 Wing was matched up most of the game with Ndour, a 6-9 player who could score inside and out. Simmons said Ndour was the Bobcats’ most difficult matchup, and he affirmed that by sinking a pair of long jump shots in the first 2:31 of the game.

Ndour finished with team highs of 14 points and 12 rebounds, but shot a modest 6 of 14 from the field. Wing finished with 11 points and six rebounds, hitting 6 of 6 free throws in a team-high 42 minutes, most of them spent battling a much bigger, more physically gifted player.

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Stevie Taylor’s putback before the buzzer gave the Ohio men’s basketball team a 38-36 lead over Evansville after a back-and-forth first half Thursday at the Ford Center.

The half featured eight ties and 10 lead changes, and neither team led by more than five points.

Evansville sophomore Blake Simmons went 2-for-3 from 3-point range and led all scorers with 10 points. D.J. Balentine added nine for the Aces and center Egidijus Mockevicius chipped in seven points, five rebounds and two blocks.

Treg Setty led a balanced Bobcat effort with eight points. Five Ohio players recorded at least five points.

The Bobcats shot 16 of 30 from the field compared to 11 of 24 for UE, but the Aces made 10 free throws while Ohio made one.

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Basic info: Ohio (3-3) at Evansville (7-2), 8:05 p.m. CST Thursday at the Ford Center

Pregame story: Aces bring double dose of motivation into matchup with Ohio

Radio: WUEV 91.5 FM

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Ohio: Javarez Willis (5-11, Sr., G, 15.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg); Maurice Ndour (6-9, Sr., F, 15.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg); Stevie Taylor (5-10, Sr., G, 7.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg); Mike Laster (6-4, Fr., G, 4.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg); Antonio Campbell (6-8, So., F, 10.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg).

Evansville: Duane Gibson (6-3, So., G, 5.0 ppg, 2.7 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Jr., G, 21.7 ppg, 3.3 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, So., G/F, 7.1 ppg, 2.3 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Jr., G/F, 6.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 12.4 ppg, 10.0 rpg).

— —

Three key questions:

1. Which frontcourt will win out?

Mockevicius, UE’s 6-foot-10 center, is a nightly threat for a double-double. But he’s most comfortable protecting the rim on the defensive end, where Ohio will look to get him away from the basket.

Ohio’s 6-foot-8, 260-pound center Antonio Campbell can shoot out to 3-point range (he’s made 4 of 14 3s this season) and 6-9, 200-pound power forward Maurice Ndour can slash to the basket as well as score inside.

Chances are Adam Wing or Mislav Brzoja will have to guard one of these larger players and the Aces will hope Mockevicius’ man doesn’t burn them from the outside. If Ohio tries to challenge the big guy inside, the Aces have to like their chances. Mockevicius finished with six blocks and only one foul against Murray State, and has 19 blocks this season.

2. Will UE get back to protecting the ball?

After ranking among the nation’s leaders in assist-to-turnover ration early in the season, Evansville has struggled in that area over its past two games. Against Belmont on Dec. 9, the Aces committed 17 turnovers compared to 12 assists. And against Murray State on Saturday, UE had 19 miscues and 15 assists.

Adam Wing had five turnovers in each of those games and leads the Aces with 23 on the season. Duane Gibson, normally a sure-handed point guard, also had five turnovers against Murray State.

3. Can Balentine continue his hot streak?

Here are Balentine’s scoring totals since being held to 13 and 12 points in back-to-back games of the Florida Gulf Coast Showcase: 23, 28, 22, 25, 31.

During that stretch, he’s hit 51.2 percent of his field goals and 50 percent from 3-point range. That’s impressive efficiency for a high-volume shooter.

— —

Predictions: Evansville is listed as a 10 1/2-point favorite by VegasInsider. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 74-65 UE win and gives the Aces an 81 percent chance of victory.

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Here are some leftover notes, quotes and observations that didn’t make it into my game story of Murray State’s 81-79 victory Saturday over Evansville at the Ford Center.

1. Murray State’s Cameron Payne had everything going.

This is an obvious statement about a player who finished with a game-high 32 points, but the variety of ways in which he scored made it clear why the Aces had such a hard time defending Payne. The 6-foot-2 point guard hit 4 of 7 3-pointers, had a quick pull-up shot and good touch on his floaters.

And because he was making all kinds of shots, his hesitation moves were particularly effective because the Aces had to respect his ability to pull up and unleash a jump shot at any time. Add to that the officials’ trend of calling touch fouls on the perimeter on both ends, and it was basically impossible for UE’s point guards to keep Payne from drawing a foul or getting a decent look at the basket.

2. UE coach Marty Simmons challenged D.J. Balentine in the first half, and the star shooting guard responded.

Balentine finished with 31 points, but he had only two in the first 16:29. During that early stretch, Simmons asked Balentine during a stoppage of play, “D.J., are you playing your (butt) off?”

It’s safe to say he couldn’t ask that question at the end of the contest. Balentine scored 10 points in the last 3:31 of the opening half, including a 3 with two seconds left that pulled UE within 42-38.

For the game, Balentine his 8 of 20 field goals and 13 of 15 free throws, often bullying his way inside to draw fouls.

“I thought he was a lot more aggressive (in the second half) in attacking the rim,” Simmons said. “I think he was a little frustrated in the first half. They’re a physical, tough team, and we knew that. We’ve talked about that since the Belmont game finished.”

3. The Aces’ devastating turnover with 2.3 seconds left was poorly executed, not necessarily poorly conceived.

Before I weigh in here, let me acknowledge this: Adam Wing air-mailing that full-court pass out of bounds with 2.3 seconds left was absolutely the worst possible outcome in that situation for the Aces. If the pass had been low enough for any player to touch the ball, MSU would have had to go the length of the court for the game-winner, so overtime would’ve been likely.

My point is this: hindsight is 20-20. Can you imagine the groans that would’ve permeated the Ford Center had UE just inbounded the ball safely, never reached half court and not gotten a shot up with 2.3 seconds left? For the Aces, something between those two extremes may have been ideal: hit someone at the near 3-point line moving toward the opposite basket, get two dribbles down and at least get a decent attempt at a long 3 to win the game.

But the Aces decided to trust Wing to deliver the long pass, and the former high school quarterback who received Division I scholarship offers for that sport is the best guy to trust in that situation. And he was targeting Jaylon Moore, an explosive leaper at 6-foot-7. The pass just happened to be too high.

4. MSU’s 3-pointers destroyed the Aces.

Murray State finished 11 of 19 from 3-point range, a 58-percent clip. Some were tough makes, but several were fairly open.

Said UE sophomore Blake Simmons: “We got hit by a couple screens; they got us pretty good on some. We gave up too many open 3s, and then Payne – he’s a tough player. He hit a couple of tough ones on our guards. I thought our guards did a good job on him for the most part. We just gotta do a better job of eliminating the easy 3s and always having a hand in the face.”

5. Egidijus Mockevicius posted this impressive statistical combination: six blocks, one foul.

It was incredible how many shots Evansville’s 6-10 center challenged or blocked without fouling. If he can replicate that defensive performance the rest of the season, the Aces will be thrilled.

 

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Cameron Payne poured in 20 points on 7 of 10 shooting as the Murray State men’s basketball team led Evansville 42-38 at halftime Saturday at the Ford Center.

Payne, a 6-foot-2 guard, scored 10 straight MSU points late in the first half. During that stretch, he knocked down both of his 3-pointers, banked in a runner and drilled a contested pull-up jump shot.

D.J. Balentine led the Aces with 12 points and Mislav Brzoja added eight. Egidijus Mockevicius collected six points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two assists.

The half featured seven ties and three lead changes. Murray State stretched its lead to as large as eight in the final minute but UE closed the half with four consecutive points from Balentine, including a 3-pointer with two seconds left.

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Basic info: Murray State (5-4) at Evansville (7-1), 1:05 p.m. CST Saturday at the Ford Center

Preview story: Benzon joins the action for surging Aces

Radio: WUEV 91.5 FM

PROBABLE STARTERS

Murray State: Cameron Payne (6-2, So., G, 17.8 ppg, 4.9 apg); T.J. Sapp (6-3, Sr., G, 9.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Jarvis Williams (6-8, Sr., F, 15.7 ppg; 8.0 rpg); Jeffery Moss (6-4, Jr., F, 8.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg); Jonathan Fairell (6-7, Sr., F, 4.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg).

Evansville: Duane Gibson (6-3, So., G, 4.9 ppg, 2.6 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Jr., G, 20.5 ppg, 3.4 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Jr., G/F, 6.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg); Blake Simmons (6-5, Jr., G/F, 6.6 ppg, 2.5 apg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 12.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg).

— —

Some notes and storylines:

— Most of the key players return from last season’s meeting between the two teams, a 65-63 Murray State win . The scorers of all 63 UE points from that game return this season, while the Racers got major contributions from current starters Jeffery Moss (20 points), Cameron Payne (14 points, five assists) and Jarvis Williams (six points, 16 rebounds).

The Aces were led by D.J. Balentine’s 25 points.

— Murray State has won the last five meetings between the programs and leads the all-time series 24-10. However, Evansville has the home-court advantage, is off to a 7-1 start for only the fourth time in the last 50 seasons and is considered a solid favorite in this matchup (see predictions below).

— Balentine has boosted his scoring average to 20.5 points per game, the second most in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Kokomo, Indiana, native has scored 22 or more in each of his last four games while shooting 54.7 percent from the field during that span. Balentine is the reigning MVC player of the week.

— The Aces rank third in NCAA Division I in field-goal percentage (53.8). Egidijus Mockevicius ranks third individually among players with a minimum of five made field goals per game at 72.7 percent.

— —

Predictions: VegasInsider lists Evansville as a 7 1/2-point favorite. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 74-67 Aces win and gives UE a 76 percent chance of victory.

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Some leftover observations, notes and quotes from Evansville’s 65-62 win Tuesday night at Belmont:

UE struggled to keep up with the ball movement of Belmont in the first half, and the Bruins knocked down 7 of 14 3-pointers. For a while, the Bruins were putting on a clinic with repeated ball fakes, drives and kick-outs leading to open shots. After watching that display, it’s easy to see how Belmont has ranked near the top of NCAA Division I in 3-pointers made each season.

The Aces did a better job of limiting those plays in the second half, however, and Belmont became more impatient offensively.

“We played awful,” Bruins coach Rick Byrd said. “We made bad decisions, we were selfish, we didn’t take care of the basketball. We missed a dunk a crucial moment. We didn’t play like Belmont plays.”

— —

Byrd mostly expressed disappointment in his own team, but he was complimentary of Evansville junior D.J. Balentine, who carried the Aces with a game-high 25 points.

“We knew he was a good player; I watched hours of film on him,” Byrd said. “They do great things to get him shots, and he played awfully well tonight.”

— —

From what I’m told (I wasn’t living in Evansville yet or following the team) this is the type of game previous UE teams lost. The Aces players confirmed this by talking about their past road struggles after the game.

Down eight at halftime on the road against a solid team — albeit without its leading scorer — the Aces regrouped and went on a 19-7 run out of the intermission to take the lead for good. That stretch was the obvious turning point in the game.

“We played a little bit harder and they probably missed some (shots),” UE coach Marty Simmons said. “They’re as hard to defend as any team in the country. They run good stuff, they run it very sharp and they’ve got five guys out there who can shoot 3s.”

— —

Belmont’s Reece Chamberlain was all over the place. His stat line was horrific in terms of shooting: 1-for-11 for two points. But the 6-foot-1 guard had game highs of 14 rebounds and eight assists, and he also recorded a block. He entered the contest averaging 8.6 points per game, so if he would have had his average shooting night he could have flirted with a triple-double.

— —

Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius, as usual, were two of the most dominant players on the court and Jaylon Brown and Adam Wing knocked down key second-half 3-pointers.

But I also want to highlight the short but important stint played by seldom-used sophomore Christian Benzon. His five minutes came during the stretch when the Aces regained control early in the second half. In that span, he made a pair of free throws after an aggressive drive and poked a ball away on defense, leading to a Belmont turnover.

Benzon missed both of his field-goal attempts, but he was yelling and screaming after each good play he made, and his energy seemed to ignite his teammates.It was a nice boost of the bench for the Aces, who were dealing with Brown’s foul trouble and an injury to starting point guard Duane Gibson.

Gibson took a hard fall in the first half, which caused some stiffness in his back, and didn’t return.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Belmont drilled seven 3-pointers Tuesday night in taking a 37-29 halftime lead over Evansville in a nonconference men’s basketball game at the Curb Event Center.

The Aces jumped out a 10-3 lead and had the advantage for the first 9:46 of the game. But Belmont steadily took control with its penetrate-and-kick offense creating numerous open looks.

D.J. Balentine had 11 points to lead Evansville, while Blake Simmons and Jaylon Moore added five each. Belmont freshman Amanze Egekeze tallied a team-high 11 points and knocked down all three of his 3-point attempts.

Egidijus Mockevicius, UE’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, played only four minutes due to picking up two fouls.

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Basic info: Evansville (6-1) at Belmont (7-1), 7 p.m. CST Tuesday at Curb Event Center in Nashville, Tennessee

Preview story: Aggressive Belmont big road test for UE

Radio/live stream: WUEV 91.5 FM; a live stream available online at OVC Digital Network

 

PROBABLE STARTERS

Evansville: Duane Gibson (6-3, So., G, 5.1 ppg, 3.0 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Jr., G, 19.9 ppg, 3.3 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, So., G/F, 6.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg); Adam Wing (6-4, Jr., G/F, 7.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 13.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg).

Belmont: Reece Chamberlain (6-1, Sr., G, 8.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Taylor Barnette (6-3, So., G, 13.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg); Caleb Chowbay (6-2, So., 3.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg); Evan Bradds (6-7, So., F, 13.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg); Nick Smith (6-8, So., F, 8.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg).

——

Some notes:

— The biggest pregame development is that Belmont’s leading scorer Craig Bradshaw (21.3 ppg) won’t play after suffering an injury in Belmont’s game last Tuesday against Middle Tennessee State. He came into the game 26 of 56 from 3-point range, tied with Taylor Barnette (who has the same numbers from long range) as the Bruins’ top outside shooter.

Bradshaw is obviously an explosive scorer — he dropped 42 points on Ohio this year, hitting 8 of 12 3s — but Belmont will still have plenty of shooters on the floor.

The Bruins shoot 47.7 percent of their field goals from 3-point range, so they’ll still look to stretch Evansville’s defense with other players on the floor. Spencer Turner, a 3-point specialist from Bloomington South High School, could see increased minutes in Bradshaw’s absence.

Battle of top ‘mid-majors': Belmont is ranked No. 5 in College Insider’s latest mid-major top 25 while Evansville is No. 13.

About Belmont: Head coach Rick Byrd is in his 29th season at Belmont and is seventh among active NCAA Division I head coaches in wins (696). … The Bruins have won 59 of their last 61 home games. … Belmont and Kansas are the only two programs in the nation to win 12 or more conference games each of the past 12 seasons. … The Bruins have ranked among the country’s top 25 in 3-pointers made per game since joining Division I in 1996-97.

——

Predictions: Vegas favors Belmont by 5 1/2 points, while Ken Pomeroy predicts a 74-69 Belmont win and gives the Bruins a 68 percent chance of victory.

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A few notes and observations from the University of Evansville’s 51-41 women’s basketball win against Miami (Ohio) on Saturday. You can read my game story here.

1. The light bulb is beginning to come on for freshman Kenyia Johnson.

UE coach Oties Epps said earlier this season that guard Kenyia Johnson needed to become more comfortable in the Aces’ offense, and let then her explosiveness take over.

Johnson is beginning to do that. On one possession Saturday, she drove quickly into a tiny gap of the defense and then elevated and finished over Miami’s post player. Johnson finished with seven points and four rebounds.

She can be an important player for the Aces because she has speed and leaping ability that the Aces’ average opponent can’t match.

2. Mallory Ladd did a bit of everything for the Aces.

The 6-foot-1 forward had team highs of 14 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and also recorded four steals while playing all 40 minutes.

Ladd didn’t have her best shooting night — 4 of 14 from the field including 2 of 6 from the 3-point line — but the two 3-pointers she did make came in the second half and stretched UE’s lead to a comfortable margin.

“She carried us,” Epps said.

3. Evansville’s defense was good.

I don’t have anything enlightening to add, so I’ll leave you with these Miami lowlights: 24 turnovers and 28.6 percent shooting.

 

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Time for another day-after post, where I unload a few observations from the previous night’s game. Below are some thoughts on Evansville’s 89-62 trouncing of IUPUI on Saturday.

1. UE continues to effortlessly shoot above 50 percent

The Aces made 30 of 53 field goals (56.6 percent) and I didn’t feel like anyone had an especially spectacular shooting night. Yes, Egidijus Mockevicius made 4 of 6 shots — which actually lowered his field-goal percentage — and David Howard made all four of his attempts, but those were all shots around the basket.

UE just seems to be getting consistently good shots, often from close range. That has helped the team shoot 54.4 percent from the field this season, the second-best mark in Division I (Notre Dame is first at 55.8 percent).

Seven games into the season, I feel the sample size is large enough to say this could be a lasting characteristic of the team. Missouri Valley Conference teams that are more familiar with UE may do a better job of slowing down the Aces, but I won’t be surprised to continue seeing Evansville’s shooting percentage in the 50s.

2. Evansville’s first-half defense was the difference in the game

IUPUI couldn’t run anything resembling an offense during the first half. Evansville forced 15 turnovers and scored 20 points off those Jaguar miscues — more than IUPUI scored the entire half.

The Jaguars only made 7 of 27 field goals (27 percent), and looked generally uncomfortable on the offensive end. That’s partially because they’re not very good — IUPUI is ranked 314 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings — but it’s also because UE’s crisp rotations left no driving lanes to the basket. And in the rare event that an IUPUI player was able to make his way into the lane, the 6-10 Mockevicius was there to alter or block the shot.

3. Howard’s aggressiveness was good to see from UE’s perspective

Usually, Evansville’s backup-big-man-who-tries-to-dunk-on-the-world role is reserved for 6-foot-7 senior Jaylon Moore.

But it was Howard who was particularly aggressive attacking the basket on Saturday. The 6-8 sophomore had two dunks — including an and-one — and drew a foul while trying to slam on another guy. In just 10 minutes, he finished 4 for 4 from the field and 8 of 11 from the foul line for a career-high 16 points.

Howard said he may have had fresher legs after missing a practice earlier this week due to illness.

Both he and Moore have now had double-figure games off the bench for UE, but both players will likely continue to see minutes only when Mockevicius needs a breather or is in foul trouble. Marty Simmons’ preferred lineups include only one true post player, and Mockevicius is clearly the best of the bunch.

Still, it’s encouraging from UE’s standpoint that both Moore and Howard have proven they can be effective when needed.

4. Duane Gibson — and to a lesser extent, Jaylon Brown — get the Rajon Rondo treatment

This observation isn’t specific to this game, but it’s something I haven’t shared yet. The “Rajon Rondo treatment” is a team sagging way off a point guard who doesn’t shoot well from the outside. While this seemingly makes sense from a defense’s perspective because it limits the threat of a blow-by dribbling move, it also allows the guard to handle the ball and make passes more comfortably.

UE’s starting point guard, Duane Gibson, gets this treatment and he handles it well. His backup, Brown, is a bit more of a shooting threat but so quick that defenses usually play off him a bit to take away the drive. Neither player forces jump shots, and both are adept at slashing to the basket in transition or when ball reversals leave openings in the defense.

The Aces make this work because they have enough jump shooters (Adam Wing, Blake Simmons, D.J. Balentine, Mislav Brzoja) to keep the floor spaced even if their point guards aren’t particularly dangerous from long range.

 

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Suffocating defense helped the University of Evansville men’s basketball team take a 40-16 halftime lead against IUPUI Saturday night at the Ford Center.

The Aces scored 20 points off 15 IUPUI turnovers, and held the visiting Jaguars to 7 of 26 shooting (26.9 percent).

Meanwhile, Evansville knocked down 17 of 31 from the field, getting 12 points from junior guard D.J. Balentine and eight points and seven rebounds from junior center Egidijus Mockevicius.

Five different Aces scored during a 19-0 run that turned a one-point deficit into a 27-9 advantage. Backup point guard Jaylon Brown finished the first half with six points, six assists and zero turnovers for UE.

P.J. Boutte led IUPUI with five points.