Here are some leftover notes, quotes and observations from Evansville’s 69-57 win over Santa Clara on Friday. You can read my game story here.
1. The Aces are gaining a reputation at this tournament for their unselfish play.
Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating pointed out that Evansville had 26 assists on 27 baskets in its first-round game, and then 21 assists on 24 field goals Friday.
“That’s very, very rare in college nowadays, especially with all this emphasis on new rules, which they did a good job of taking advantage of with older guys tonight,” Keating said.
“Evansville is obviously a very good team. A team I’d expect to be in the NCAA Tournament come March. All due respect to the Missouri Valley, I’m not an expert on that. But that team that came off a CIT Championship and returns all five starters, knows how to win, knows how to play.”
UE guard D.J. Balentine credited coach Marty Simmons for emphasizing good ball movement in practice.
“We have a drill we call ‘no-dribble drill.’ It’s 5 on 5 and the offense isn’t allowed to dribble so we have to cut and move and I really think that helps us a lot,” Balentine said. “We work on it a lot in practice so it translates to the game where we don’t have to always dribble the ball to go around someone and we can just be patient and wait for something to open up. I think we did that well these past couple games.”
2. Mislav Brzoja sparked UE in both halves.
Evansville’s sixth man scored 10 straight UE points near the end of the first half to help the Aces to a 37-29 halftime lead. In the second half, he (inexplicably) didn’t get in for the first eight minutes — the last part of which saw Evansville go on a nearly four-minute scoring drought.
But shortly after he checked in, he scored on a drive to the basket and the Aces’ offense opened up. UE went on a 5-0 run after Santa Clara cut the lead to four and Evansville was in control from there.
Brzoja finished 6 of 6 from the field, making his only 3-point attempt, in scoring 16 points.
3. D.J. Balentine outplayed Santa Clara’s star, Jared Brownridge.
Balentine let the game come to him in posting 23 points and eight assists. He took 18 shots (making nine), but nothing seemed forced.
“I was in the flow of the offense,” Balentine said. “When we are running the offense like that I’m capable of getting a lot of assists and a lot of points, too.
“I would say the flow of the offense was better tonight but a lot of the guys helped me get those assists. Some of the assists weren’t good passes but they caught them and made them so I give a lot of credit to those guys.”
Brownridge led the Broncos with 19 points, shooting 6 of 17 from the field and 6 of 10 from the foul line. That performance came one day after he posted a career-high 44 points in an overtime loss to No. 11 Arizona.
“Anytime he’s short on two free throws, I know he’s tired,” Keating said. “He’s never going to complain. He’s not going to say that he’s tired. It’s just hard. We all rely on him so much, but I don’t want to over-rely on him this early because I think we need to keep developing our other guys and have a better balance. But we’re kind of stuck in a rock and a hard place right now, where he needs to score 44 for us to win.”