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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.”

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FULLERTON, Calif. — Mislav Brzoja scored 10 straight points for the University of Evansville men’s basketball team Friday, helping the Aces take a 37-29 halftime lead over Santa Clara in a Wooden Legacy consolation game at Titan Gym.

The junior swingman did it all for the Aces during that stretch: hitting a 3-pointer, a pull-up jump shot and finishing a three-point play inside.

Evansville senior D.J. Balentine hit a step-back fadeaway at the buzzer to push UE’s lead to eight. Broncos junior Jared Brownridge — who had a career-high 44 points in the first round against No. 11 Arizona — led all scorers with 13 points.

The Aces held Santa Clara scoreless for the first 5:32 of the game, building an 8-0 lead in the process. The Broncos eventually regrouped with the aid of Evansville’s 11 first-half turnovers.

Santa Clara led 16-15 after a six-point spurt, but the Aces regained the lead and closed the half on a 10-4 run. Four Broncos ended the half with two fouls, while three UE players had two fouls (Jaylon Brown, Duane Gibson and Blake Simmons).

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Basic info: Evansville (3-1) vs. Santa Clara (0-6), Wooden Legacy consolation game, 8 p.m. CST Friday at Titan Gym in Fullerton, California.

TV/Radio: ESPN3; WUEV 91.5 FM

How they got here: Evansville lost 74-64 to Providence in the first round. Santa Clara took No. 11 Arizona to overtime before falling 75-73. Jared Brownridge scored 44 points for the Broncos, a career-high and Wooden Legacy record.

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Evansville: Jaylon Brown (6-0, Jr., G, 9.5 ppg, 2.8 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Sr., G, 20.5 ppg, 5.8 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, Jr., G/F, 6.5 ppg, 4 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Jr., F, 5.0 ppg; 3.5 apg), Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Jr., C, 19.3 ppg, 12.0 rpg).

Santa Clara: Evan Wardlow (6-4, So., G, 2.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Jarvis Pugh (6-6, So., F, 4.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Jared Brownridge (6-3, Jr., G, 20.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg); K.J. Feagin (6-1, Fr., G, 8.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Nate Kratch (6-8, Jr., F, 7.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg).

— —


1. Will Brownridge come back to Earth?

The Santa Barbara guard nearly willed his team to victory against Arizona even though every Wildcat knew he was going to take most of the shots. Forty-four out of 73 points is ridiculous. If Brownridge plays even close to that well again, the Aces are in trouble.

However, if he goes cold, the Broncos don’t have any other players who average double-figures in points. There’s a reason they’re 0-6 with home losses to Lipscomb and Denver.

2. Will any of UE’s role players step up?

The Aces are at their best when someone outside their top three scorers (Balentine, Mockevicius and Mislav Brzoja) also reaches double figures in points. Blake Simmons, Jaylon Brown and Adam Wing can all chip in, and the Aces need at least one of them to have an above-average night to keep the Broncos honest.

3. Who will have more energy?

It’s a consolation game at a neutral site less than 24 hours after each team finished its last contest. So, whichever team can create its own energy despite tired legs and a small crowd will have an edge.

UE appears to have an advantage here. Santa Clara played the final quarterfinal and it went to overtime, plus its star (Brownridge) played the game of his life in a near-upset. He and the Broncos likely had an emotional letdown after coming so close to a huge victory.

Predictions: Evansville is favored by 12 points. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 73-64 UE win and gives the Aces an 82 percent chance of victory.

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Here are some leftover notes, quotes and observations from Evansville’s 74-64 loss to Providence Thursday in the first round of the Wooden Legacy in Fullerton, California. You can read my game story here.

1. Providence’s Ben Bentil is the prototype of UE’s biggest matchup problem.

At 6-foot-9, 235 pounds, Bentil was too big and strong for anyone but Egidijus Mockevicius to handle inside, and he also knocked down a couple of 3-pointers (which are hard for Mockevicius — who stays near the basket to help cut off driving lanes — to contest).

“I wouldn’t consider him a true (center),” UE coach Marty Simmons said. “He’s athletic and quick and I thought he gave us some matchup problems. Other than fouling, I thought our defense was pretty solid. They’re just a tough team to defend because they do a lot action in the center of the floor so it’s hard to get a lot of help on those ball screens.”

Fortunately for the Aces, most teams on their schedule won’t have a guy that big and skilled. And even if they do, chances are they won’t always get a career high like Bentil did with 24 points. But the point remains that players like Bentil are tough for UE to contain.

2. Providence was the more aggressive team.

The two biggest statistics, to me, are Providence’s advantages at the free-throw line (23 of 29 compared to 5 of 11 for UE) and on the offensive glass (13-6). Both of those indicate the Friars were attacking more than the Aces.

Evansville shot 51 percent from the field and outscored the Friars by eight points on field goals, but Providence still won comfortably because it repeatedly worked its way to the foul line.

“I think in the first half 27 of their 40 (points) came off turnovers and free throws, and we can’t do that,” Simmons said. “We’ve got to do a better job of keeping them off the line and we’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball.”

3. There were some bright spots for UE. 

As expected, D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius were two of the better players on the court. Balentine had a team-high 18 points but required 18 field-goal attempts to get there. Mockevicius had 13 points, nine rebounds and four blocks despite playing with foul trouble.

There was also Mislav Brzoja, who played 32 minutes off the bench and contributed 11 points and a game-high six assists with zero turnovers. Adam Wing became more assertive offensively as the game progressed and finished with nine points on 4-for-5 shooting.

4. The Aces can still salvage a good showing in the tournament.

In our weekly Courier & Press ‘Huddle’ podcast, I said two wins — regardless of when they came — would be a solid showing for the Aces. And UE still has a chance to accomplish that.

After a consolation game against Santa Clara on Friday, UE will play Boston College or UC Irvine on Sunday. Santa Clara is 0-6, but took No. 11 Arizona to overtime Thursday behind Jared Brownridge’s tournament-record 44 points. Beating either Boston College or UC Irvine on Sunday would be a respectable win for the Aces.

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FULLERTON, Calif — Ben Bentil posted 17 points to lead Providence to a 40-32 halftime lead over Evansville on Thursday in the first round of the Wooden Legacy men’s basketball tournament.

Evansville led 10-3 after a 10-point burst, but Providence outscored the Aces by 15 the rest of the way. Evansville struggled to contain the 6-foot-9 Bentil inside, particularly after UE’s 6-10 center Egidijus Mockevicius went to the bench with foul trouble.

D.J. Balentine hit 3 of 5 from 3-point range to lead UE with 13 points. The Aces shot 14 of 22 from the field (64 percent), but went just 1 of 5 from the foul line while committing 10 turnovers.

Meanwhile, Providence shot 12 of 26 from the floor and 12 of 14 on free throws. Friars All-American Kris Dunn finished the half with nine points.

Evansville junior point guard Duane Gibson came off the bench to see his first action of the season. A starter last season, Gibson missed UE’s first three games with a torn meniscus in his knee.

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Basic info: Evansville (3-0) vs. Providence (4-0), Wooden Legacy quarterfinal, 8 p.m. CST Thursday at Titan Gym in Fullerton, California.

Preview stories: All-America guard Dunn to challenge Aces; MVC’s prodding helped UE land in top tourney

TV/Radio: ESPNU; WUEV 91.5 FM

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Evansville: Jaylon Brown (6-0, Jr., G, 10 ppg, 2.7 apg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Sr., G, 21.3 ppg, 6 apg); Blake Simmons (6-5, Jr., G/F, 7.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Adam Wing (6-4, Sr., F, 3.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Sr., C, 21.3 ppg, 13 rpg).

Providence: Ben Benton (6-9, So., F, 13 ppg, 8 rpg); Kris Dunn (6-4, Jr., G, 18.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 6.8 apg); Rodney Bullock (6-8, So., F, 18.8 ppg; 8.5 rpg); Junior Lomomba (6-5, Jr., G, 5.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg); Ryan Fazekas (6-8, Fr., G, 9.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg).

— —

Noting Evansville: Mockevicius has registered a double-double in 30 of his last 47 games. … Providence leads the all-time series 1-0, winning a home game 98-71 against the Aces on Dec. 11, 1975. … Evansville was ranked fifth in the most recent Mid-Major Top 25 poll. Other Missouri Valley Conference teams ranked are Northern Iowa (2), Wichita State (3) and Southern Illinois (24). … D.J. Balentine is the nation’s active career scoring leader (1,830 points).

Noting Providence: The Friars advanced to their 17th NCAA tournament last season, earning a No. 6 seed. They were knocked out by Dayton in their first game. … Kris Dunn was named to the Associated Press Preseason All-America team. He is projected the No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft by … Last season, Dunn was the first player in Big East history to lead the conference in steals (2.8 per game) and assists (7.7 per game) in conference play.

Predictions: Providence is favored by two points. Ken Pomeroy predicts a 75-74 Friars victory and gives PC a 52 percent chance of victory.


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Here are some leftover notes, quotes and observations from Evansville’s victory over Belmont on Saturday. You can read my game story here.

1. It took contributions from nearly everyone for the Aces to pull out the win.

D.J. Balentine, Egidijus Mockevicius and Mislav Brzoja had big games, but that is expected from the Aces’ most talented players. There were also key contributions from Jaylon Brown (13 points on 5 of 7 shooting), Blake Simmons (seven points and a career-high-tying seven assists) and Adam Wing (six rebounds, six assists, three steals).

Even Harris Brown made good use of his two minutes off the bench, which coincided with the Aces’ 11-2 flurry to end the first half. He buried a 3-pointer the first time he touched the ball and found Mockevicius for a dunk after UE broke Belmont’s press.

“I told them in the locker room after the game I was so proud of Harris Brown,” UE coach Marty Simmons said. “How many minutes did he play? And his time in the game might’ve been the most important in the entire game. He knocked in an open 3 from the corner and then when they went to the run-and-jump he made a good pass to Egidijus. When you play good teams, you’re going to have to get good play from a lot of different guys.”

Said Balentine, who added six rebounds and five assists to his season-high 27 points: “That’s the flow of the game. Everybody’s having fun and everybody’s efficient, everybody knows what their role is, so when that happens that’s when it starts flowing greatly for us.”

2. The Aces were fortunate Belmont missed some open 3s.

Mislav Brzoja said the Aces wanted to hold Belmont below 40 percent from 3-point range and they accomplished that. The Bruins ended 9 of 30 (30 percent). But even the constant threat of the 3-pointer forced UE to play Evan Bradds one-on-one in the post and opened cutting lanes for backdoor passes and layups.

Belmont was a well-oiled machine, despite missing some shots, and Evansville was lucky it played well enough on offense to win a shootout.

“I know our players and our coaching staff understand how good that basketball program is,” Simmons said. “They’re one of the most difficult teams in all my years as a player and coach to prepare for … so out of our respect for them, you feel like you accomplished something. But we’ve got to move on and we’ve got to keep getting better.”

3. The Aces did enough to win the game, but it wasn’t an emphatic close-out.

The Aces lost more close games than they won last season, so if they want to significantly improve this season, they’ll need to play better in the final minutes. That wasn’t the case Saturday, even though Evansville pulled out a five-point win.

The Aces led by 13 with 6:15 left but Belmont pulled within 84-80 with 1:46 left. Evansville turned the ball over twice in the backcourt and had some uncharacteristic misses from the foul line late in the game.

“With the experience that we have on our team, we’ve got to be better,” Simmons said. “We were just fortunate enough to get through.”

Brzoja made two important plays late — tipping Jaylon Brown’s missed free throw to Mockevicius and getting a steal with 10 seconds left to preserve the win.


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D.J. Balentine hit a stepback, 26-foot 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give the University of Evansville a 45-35 lead over Belmont on Saturday at the Ford Center.

Balentine led all scorers with 11 points and Egidijus Mockevicius had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Junior guard Jaylon Brown also added 10 points, going 4-for-5 from the field and 2 of 2 from 3-point range.

The Bruins (2-1), normally a proficient 3-point shooting team, went just 3 of 14 from long range. Evansville was 5 of 8.

Evan Bradds and Amanze Egekeze scored eight points apiece to lead the Bruins, but both picked up two fouls in the half.

Evansville ended the half on an 11-2 run. Harris Brown came off the bench and hit a 3-pointer the first time he touched the ball and assisted Mockevicius for a dunk with 17.4 seconds remaining.

UE followed with a defensive stop and Mockevicius grabbed the rebound. He found Balentine near half court with about 3 seconds left. Balentine took a couple of dribbles before hitting the buzzer-beater.

Evansville also had a 9-0 run earlier in the half.

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Game info: Belmont (2-1) at Evansville (2-0), 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Ford Center

Preview story: Belmont could give Aces first major test

TV/Radio: ESPN3; WUEV 91.5 FM

— —


Belmont: Austin Luke (6-3, So., G, 9.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Craig Bradshaw (6-3, Sr., G, 14.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Taylor Barnette (6-3, Jr., G, 7.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg); Evan Bradds (6-7, Jr., F, 17 ppg, 7.7 rpg); Amanze Egekeze (6-8, So., F, 8.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg).

Evansville: Jaylon Brown (6-0, Jr., G, 8.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg); D.J. Balentine (6-2, Sr., G, 18.5 ppg, 6.5 apg); Adam Wing (6-4, Sr., F, 3.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg); Blake Simmons (6-5, Jr., G/F, 7.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Egidijus Mockevicius (6-10, Sr., C, 19 ppg, 12.5 rpg).

— —


1. The 3-point battle

The Bruins average 31 3-point attempts per game so expect them to come out firing. They could easily shoot their way to a big lead if they get hot.

On the other hand, Evansville normally ranks in the bottom third in Division I in 3-point attempts and makes. Evansville doesn’t need to take as many 3s as Belmont to win this game, but the Aces will need to be more effective than they have been in their first two games (5 of 26 combined).

2. The inside battle

The Aces and Bruins are led in scoring by big men Egidijus Mockevicius and Evan Bradds, respectively. While the 6-foot-10 Mockevicius is a traditional post player who does most of his damage in the paint, Bradds can shoot from 3-point range in addition to scoring inside.

Many times last season when Mockevicius faced a talented, smaller player the matchup was a wash. Mockevicius would get his points inside but have his opponent bury some outside jumpers before Mockevicius could close out from the paint. If either of these guys significantly outplays the other, it will make a big difference.

3. How will the Aces respond against a good team?

Even though Southeast Missouri State made a good run at the beginning of the second half against UE, the game was never in doubt. Evansville was clearly the more talented team and never felt threatened.

Belmont can provide a different sort of resistance. This is a winning program that already has victories over Marquette and Western Kentucky this season.The Aces are experienced, but they lost eight games by five points or less last season.

UE has spotlighted pulling out close games as an area for improvement this season, and this could be the first game that finishing ability is put to the test.

— —

More notes on Belmont: The Bruins return 11 letterwinners from last season’s NCAA tournament team. … Coach Rick Byrd is in his 30th season at Belmont and ranks seventh among all active NCAA Division I coaches with 713 wins. Byrd is the outgoing chairman of the NCAA Basketball Rules Committee. The committee passed a number of rule changes in the offseason, including reducing the shot clock to 30 seconds and eliminating one timeout. … Belmont has won 20-plus games nine of the last 10 seasons and has qualified for seven NCAA tournaments in that span. … The Bruins are ranked fifth in the Mid-Major Top 25, while Evansville is ranked sixth. … Located in Nashville, Tennessee, the Bruins have several famous musicians among their alumni: Braid Paisley, Trisha Yearwood, Stephen Curtis Chapman, Lee Ann Womack, Melinda Doolittle and former baseball pitcher Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line.

Predictions: Evansville is favored by 5 1/2 points. Ken Pomeroy predicts an 84-77 UE win and gives the Aces a 73 percent chance of victory.

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Kyle FreelandFormer University of Evansville pitcher Kyle Freeland threw five shutout innings Thursday in his final start of the Arizona Fall League. Freeland plays for the Salt River Rafters, who play in the AFL’s championship game Saturday.

Freeland’s overall numbers in the AFL were good — a 4-1 record with a 2.84 ERA. But take away a poor debut in which he allowed six runs while recording just two outs, and Freeland’s statistics were outstanding. Over his next five starts, the left-hander went 4-0 with a 0.73 ERA while holding opponents to a .233 batting average.

“Minus that first outing, I thought I did excellent,” Freeland told “I worked on things I needed to work on, accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and I felt great about the entire season.”

The extra work in the AFL could prove beneficial to Freeland, who missed the first half of his minor-league season while recovering from shoulder fatigue and surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow.

“One thing that I’ll build off is the momentum that I have right now,” he told “I want to carry that through the next couple months into Spring Training. I want to keep that work ethic and keep that grind to win games for my team.”

Freeland is ranked as the No. 9 prospect in the Colorado Rockies organization by

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Here are leftover notes, quotes and observations from Evansville’s 84-59 win over NAIA opponent Marian University on Tuesday. You can read my game story here.

1. Evansville relied on its superior talent, but didn’t play particularly well.

The Aces shot a solid 32 of 61 from the field (52.5 percent) but that was mostly a factor of getting easy baskets inside against a less-talented opponent. The Aces were able to get into the lane both in their half-court offense and in transition, helping offset a 1-for-11 performance from 3-point range.

UE coach Marty Simmons didn’t think his team was sharp and took a subdued tone in his postgame press conference — something not every coach would do after a 25-point win. Simmons knows the Aces could easily lose their next two games if they don’t perform better. UE hosts Belmont on Saturday and plays against Providence at a neutral site on Thanksgiving.

“We’re not getting any carry-over to what we’re doing in practice to what we want to do in the games,” Simmons said. “As we move forward with our schedule here, it’s going to get tough.

“I think we got a group of guys in that locker room that really care and want to be successful. We’ve got to take what we’re seeing and we’ve got to go to the practice floor and we’ve got to get better.”

2. Egidijus Mockevicius was outstanding for the second straight game.

The reigning Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week recorded another double-double, with 20 points and 11 rebounds in 24 minutes. He shot 9 of 10 from the field and 2 of 2 from the foul line.

Mockevicius also produced the game’s two biggest highlights, slamming home a putback dunk in the first half and an alley-oop feed from D.J. Balentine in the second half.

“We try to start every game by pounding it inside to ‘Iggy,’ establishing him,” Evansville junior Blake Simmons said. “He’s one of the best centers in the whole country and we knew he had a size advantage in there, a strength advantage, so we wanted to pound him early.”

3. UE’s players had some fun with former assistant Carson Harris working the opposite sideline.

Jaylon Brown said Harris, Marian’s head coach, was teasing him during the game (“Come on J.B. You know that wasn’t a foul!”).

Blake Simmons also had the former Aces assistant in his ear.

“A couple times when I was near the sideline, he’d be like, ‘What play are you about to run? What play are you about to run?’” Simmons said. “And I was like, ‘Come on, coach. You know you can already tell.’ And then about two seconds later he’d call out our play. He knows it like the back of his hand.”

The Knights were 5-0 coming into the game and stuck with the Aces for most of the first half. It was a solid performance for an NAIA team against an opponent of UE’s caliber.

“The first half was fun to watch,” Harris said. “I felt like we did some things right that we really look for on our side. That’s a good team and to be able to come down and do that for two or three minutes and really play well, it’s something to build on.”

Harris said it was neat to return to the Ford Center and see some familiar faces.

“I loved coming down to see coach Simmons,” he said. “I really just appreciate the opportunities he’s given me a long time ago and then again tonight. He’s really been a blessing in my life and I can’t thank him enough.”

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Egidijus Mockevicius had 13 points and seven rebounds to help the University of Evansville men’s basketball team take a 40-27 halftime lead over Marian on Tuesday at the Ford Center.

Mockevicius joined UE’s 1,000-point club in emphatic fashion, slamming home a putback dunk off a missed 3-point attempt to give the Aces a 39-25 lead with 2:28 remaining. UE closed the half on a 14-2 run and held the Knights to one field goal over the final 5:55.

D.J. Balentine added eight points and Mislav Brzoja seven for UE, which shot 16 of 31 (51.6 percent) from the field. Wesley Stowers came off the bench to lead Marian with six points.