Leftover observations, notes and quotes from Evansville’s win at Southern Illinois on Saturday (you can read my game story here):
1. The Aces closed the game as impressively as they have all year.
UE has won a few close games this season, but rarely has it slammed the door shut on an opponent like it did Saturday. Most of the Aces’ close wins have come from building a big lead and barely hanging on, or making one more play down the stretch than their opponent.
On Saturday, the Aces made several more plays than the Salukis. UE held SIU without a field goal for the final 4:31. In fact, UE led by just four when SIU sank its last field goal — a layup by Sean O’Brien — but stretched the lead to 11 before winning comfortably.
“In the last eight minutes we didn’t turn it over … and that’s hard because they were really aggressive, really active,” Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. “They were applying pressure and they were switching, and it wasn’t easy. It was just good execution, for the most part, and guys just stepping up and making plays.”
2. UE’s dominant bench play came from just three players.
I mentioned UE’s outstanding bench play — Evansville’s reserves outscored SIU’s 39-9 — prominently in my story, but it’s worth revisiting what each player brought to the game.
Those 39 bench points all came from Mislav Brzoja (14), Jaylon Moore (13) and Duane Gibson (12). Evansville’s other bench players — David Howard, Christian Benzon and Taylor Stafford — didn’t attempt a shot in limited minutes.
Brzoja appears to have returned to the form he held before missing 2 1/2 weeks with a broken hand. He still plays with a wrap on the hand, but it clearly isn’t affecting him much. Brzoja made 5 of 7 shots, including both of his 3-point attempts, and also pulled down four rebounds and dished out three assists.
Moore was simply active around the basket, getting a tip-in and three dunks and being ready to score when his teammates found him.
And Gibson was selectively aggressive, attacking off the dribble when it was available and nailing a couple of pull-up jump shots when defenders gave him several feet of space (as they often do out of respect for Gibson’s driving ability and disrespect for his shooting ability).
“(Assistant) coach (Jimmy Elgas) is always on me, he has me in the gym every day working on my shot,” Gibson said. “He says, ‘Be ready and just have confidence and let it go.'”
Said Moore: “Coach says all the time to be ready when you come off the bench because anybody can make an impact. You just got to be ready and when you get in, go out there and make a difference.”
SIU coach Barry Hinson said Evansville’s second half was the best he has seen the Aces play all season. But Hinson also had several issues with the play of his own team. Here are some of his postgame quotes:
“I don’t think we had any energy or any enthusiasm to start the game. We got off to a 9-2 start, but that was all false, that was all fool’s gold. We just kept trying to get our guys going and going and going, and couldn’t get them jump-started.”
“You cannot turn the ball over 17 times and have four assists and beat anybody. It’s just impossible.”
“Their bench and our turnovers and our lack of execution defensively in the second half just nailed us.”