Former UE guard Ned Cox awaiting overseas offers

Ned Cox

Ned Cox

After a successful professional basketball debut, Ned Cox is playing the waiting game.

The former University of Evansville guard averaged 17.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 2013-14 for a team in the Brazilian Premiere League.

This summer, Cox is staying in shape as his agent shops his talents around the globe. Cox said he’d like to pursue opportunities in Germany, Greece, Turkey or Hungary, but is waiting on the offers to come in.

The 6-foot-1 Cox — who scored 10.8 points per game for the Aces during the 2012-13 season — believes his performance in Brazil proved his worth to other pro teams.

“As far as basketball-wise, I had to be a playmaker for my team and step up a little bit more than I had to at UE,” the San Antonio native said. “It helped me grow up as a person and a basketball player.”

Cox said he enjoyed getting outside of the U.S. and traveling to different beaches and cities in Brazil. But he also hopes his hard work eventually lands him back in the States.

“Hopefully I keep continuing to improve myself and continuing to have good seasons,” Cox said. “Hopefully I get a shot to get in an NBA Summer League and give myself a shot at going that route.”

 

 

Shy Ely signs with top-tier French club

Former University of Evansville guard Shy Ely has signed a contract with Le Mans Sarthe, a first-tier professional club in France.

In case you want to brush up on your French, or see a photo of Ely in his Evansville heyday, here is a tweet with a French press release announcing the deal:

Ely averaged more than 20 points last season for a team in Heidelberg, Germany, that competed in Germany’s second division. The 6-foot-4 Ely has also played in the NBA Development League and for a team in the top Swiss League.

Ely averaged 18.9 points and 5.8 rebounds as a senior for the Aces in the 2008-09 season.

UE showing interest in Lithuanian power forward, but no scholarship offer

Dainius Chatkevicius — who was referred to as “an Evansville commit” earlier this month by ESPN recruiting analyst Reggie Rankin — has not committed to the University of Evansville men’s basketball program. In fact, the Aces haven’t even offered the class of 2015 prospect a scholarship, a representative of the athletic department said Tuesday.

The Aces are continuing to track the 6-foot-9, 245-pound power forward, but the lone scholarship expected to become available after this season is unfilled.

(Full disclosure: I used Rankin’s tweet for this blog post, in which I introduced the big man to readers, pointed out there was no other link between Chatkevicius and Evansville and tried to dig up some tidbits about him.)

Chatkevicius averaged eight points and nine rebounds last season for West Oaks Academy, a private school in Orlando, Florida, that attracts loads of Division I prospects.

West Oaks’ 2014 graduating class contained men’s basketball players headed to Louisville, New Mexico State, Texas A & M, UC Irvine and South Alabama, coach Shaun Wiseman said.

Chatkevicius’ role on that stacked squad was to rebound and hold down the middle of the lane on defense.

“He’s tough, he’s rugged, he’s physical,” Wiseman said. “He’s not afraid to put his body on people.”

Chatkevicius became interested in UE when a Lithuanian coach recommended the school to him. He said he hasn’t visited campus, but hopes to sometime this season.

“I watched a few (Evansville) games online last year and that’s it,” said Chatkevicius, who came to the U.S. last September and has been in communication with Evansville assistant Geoff Alexander.

Chatkevicius said he hopes to improve his shooting, footwork and agility in his final prep season. Wiseman expects the big man to accept a larger offensive role.

“He’s gonna do most of his work 10 feet and in but if he needs to step out, he can take a jump shot every now and then,” Wiseman said. “He can pick and pop and do some stuff as he keeps developing.”

Updates on Kyle Freeland, Mislav Brzoja and a UE men’s basketball target

Some news and notes regarding University of Evansville athletics:

— Former UE left-hander and 2014 MLB first-round draft pick Kyle Freeland made his second professional start Monday night for the Grand Junction (Colorado) Rockies, Colorado’s Rookie League affiliate.

Freeland tossed three innings, allowing four hits and one earned run while striking out two. In his first appearance, Freeland pitched two scoreless innings, so his ERA is currently a solid 1.80.

Mislav Brzoja, a 6-4 guard who has three season of eligibility remaining with the Aces beginning with 2014-15, is midway through the European Championships playing for Croatia’s U20 national team.

Through five games in which Croatia has gone 2-3, the Villanova transfer is averaging 30 minutes, 9.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Brzoja is also tied for the team high with 3.4 turnovers per game.

Although Brzoja is not currently working out on campus like many of his UE teammates, playing in a structured environment (and for 30 minutes per game) against quality competition is a productive use of his summer. And Aces fans probably like those rebounding numbers considering UE finished second-to-last in rebounding margin last year in the Missouri Valley Conference (minus-2.1).

The U20 European Championships are being held in Crete, Greece.

— This tweet from Wednesday lists Evansville among four Division I schools that have offered scholarships to Class of 2015 forward Dean Wade.

The 6-foot-8 Wade averaged 22.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.7 blocks during his junior season for St. John (Kansas) High School. His team finished 26-0 and won the Class 2A state title.

Here is a video of Wade dunking in the state championship game that is pretty entertaining for three reasons: 1) it’s a nice move; 2) the commentator cackles like a madman; and 3) Wade gets knocked over awkwardly by the guy taking the ball out of bounds.

Wade is listed as a three-star prospect by Rivals.com.

ESPN analyst lauds UE men’s basketball commit’s physical play

On Thursday night, ESPN recruiting analyst Reggie Rankin tweeted about 6-foot-9 class of 2015 power forward Dainius Chatkevicius, linking him to Evansville and lauding his physical play and willingness to do the dirty work to help his team.

This is the first I’ve heard of Chatkevicius; in fact, if you Google “Chatkevicius Evansville,” you won’t find anything other than the tweet that links the 245-pound forward to UE.

While it’s often tough to find much on European players — Chatkevicius is from Lithuania — I was able to dig up a few tidbits about him.

  • The 19-year-old (born July 9, 1995) played sparingly on his country’s U18 national team last year during the European Championships. He averaged 10.6 minutes in nine games, recording 2.3 points and 1.3 rebounds per contest. He had a high of six points in a 74-70 win over Serbia.
  • He plays high school ball in the States at West Oaks Academy in Orlando, Florida, and with a respected AAU program in Florida Elite.

 

The recruitment of Chatkevicius continues UE head coach Marty Simmons’ trend of going after European players, and Lithuanians in particular. Starting big man Egidijus Mockevicius is from Lithuania, and so is Rokas Cesnulevicius — who was granted a medical exemption this spring due to injury. Cesnulevicius will no longer play for the Aces but retained his scholarship and will remain with the team in an off-the-court capacity.

Another European, 6-4 Mislav Brzoja from Croatia, is expected to contribute this year after sitting out last season following his transfer from Villanova. Sergej Vucetic, a 7-foot-1 center from Serbia, will sit out this season after transferring from Nebraska.

Simmons discusses personnel, areas to improve

During Marty Simmons’ segment of the Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball coaches’ conference call Tuesday, the University of Evansville head coach discussed some of his players and key areas he’d like to see the Aces improve this season.

Full audio for the entire conference call can be found here. Below are the highlights from Simmons’ segment:

On shooting guard D.J. Balentine, the MVC’s leading scorer last season, and Balentine’s continued improvement: “He certainly had an outstanding season for us, but I think he’s a real driven young man (and) wants to get better defensively, rebounding. He did a terrific job of getting to the free-throw line. Just the overall leadership, he’s not on the floor as vocal as he his off the floor, but he’s just taking the role as more of a leader.”

On Mislav Brzoja, a 6-foot-4 Villanova transfer who will be eligible to play this season after sitting out the 2013-14 campagin. Brzoja is currently in Croatia playing for his country’s U-20 national team: “He’s really a good all-around player, a good versatile player, can play anywhere from 1-4, shoots the 3, good passer; a strong, athletic kid who has a lot of experience.”

On Willie Wiley, a 6-7 junior-college transfer from Vincennes University: “We have not been a good offensive rebounding team and he adds to that with his length. He’s got good hands and he comes from a program that’s had a lot of success. … He’s a terrific kid and someone who wants to be really good. I think he’s gonna bring a different dimension to our basketball team.”

On Taylor Stafford, a combo guard who transferred from Eastern Arizona College: “He can shoot the 3 off the catch, off the dribble. He’s really quick, really athletic, someone that has a terrific attitude and wants to be good.”

On trying to develop leaders on last season’s young team, and continuing that process this year: “We certainly tried to cultivate it. We have a small group of young men that we meet with weekly, just talking about it and encouraging it in different ways, but certainly addressing it. It’s not an easy thing. We probably don’t have any natural leaders; we’ve got a lot of guys that certainly can lead by example, but (not) the voiceful, emotional type of leader that I think’s important for teams to have. We’ll continue to work on that, but I think somebody will certainly come forward.”

On what Simmons would like to see the Aces improve from last season, when they finished 14-19:  “We’ve just gotta have a better mentality; we’ve gotta be harder-nosed, and that includes rebounding. That starts with the head coach, down through the staff and to the players. We’ve gotta be harder to score against.”

“Offensively, just being a more consistent shooting basketball team. I think at times, we shot the ball very well. Other times we didn’t. We’ve worked really hard here in the offseason. Guys are getting tons of shots up. I think that’s an area that will be better for us than in the past.”

“Being stronger with the basketball, not turning it over.”

A chat with Marty Simmons

I met University of Evansville men’s basketball coach Marty Simmons Thursday, and it didn’t take long for us to start chatting about next season.

The discussion centered around the Aces’ junior college transfers — 6-foot-1 combo guard Taylor Stafford and 6-7 power forward Willie Wiley — but Simmons also touched on other topics, including how star guard D.J. Balentine informed him that 6-10 center Egidijus Mockevicius has been drilling 3-pointers in workouts. Simmons laughed when he said this, so don’t expect Mackevicius to abandon the low post and start hoisting treys this season.

Anyway, here is what Simmons had to say:

On Wiley: “He’s long and he’s got shot-blocking ability. The neat thing is he has the ability to step out and make perimeter jump shots, but we think one of his greatest assets is the glass. He’s got big hands, he’s long and he’s athletic. He’ll not only help us on the defensive glass, but give us something that we’ve lacked in an offensive rebounding threat.”

On Stafford: “He’s kind of an Energizer bunny. He’s got a high motor and he loves basketball. He can score. He’s a good shooter, elevates on his jumper.”

We talked about how UE brings back everyone who contributed at the end of last season (Ryan Sawvell was a key piece before transferring mid-season), and where the transfers would fit in.

Simmons: “When you have a bunch of guys back, it’s always interesting to see how the new guys (fit). They both have good personalities and are both big team guys. I think they both bring some qualities that maybe we didn’t have.”

“I just think from a depth standpoint, going into it, this is our best group. We feel like we’ve got a lot of versatility, a lot of flexibility. We can play big, we can play small, we’ve got some athletic teams we can put out there, got some guys that can shoot the ball. The neat part’s gonna be the competition — we’re going to have more competition in practice every day than I think we’ve ever had here.”

The players are lifting weights and conditioning this summer in addition to the allotted two hours of individual instruction per week with the coaching staff.

 

 

Analyzing the outlook of UE men’s basketball

At the end of the 2013-14 season, I wrote a season recap with a few graphs outlining the outlook for the UE men’s basketball team next season. I had no idea how much it would change during the offseason.

Three signees and a transfer later, the Aces, on paper, look like a completely different team heading into the 2014-15 season. UE snagged two JUCO All-Americans in Taylor Stafford and Willie Wiley but lost freshman sharpshooter Tyler Ptacek. With Ryan Sawvell’s available scholarship and Ptacek leaving, it seemed like the two scholarships were filled with the JUCO signees.

Until this week.

UE announced yesterday that Rokas Cesnulevicius was granted a medical exemption, which freed up another scholarship. (Medical exemptions allow the player to keep the scholarship, but it does not count against the team scholarship numbers regulated by the NCAA). Most figured Cesnulevicius, who did not play last season due to injury, would be granted a redshirt, so the medical exemption that will end his collegiate career came as a surprise. But that meant another scholarship was available.

Today, the Aces announced a third signee, Sergej Vucetic from Nebraska, filling that third open scholarship.

This last signee seems to be it for this year: three players gained, two lost, and the third done with his collegiate playing career.

Here’s what it will look like class-by-class in 2014-15:

Freshmen: none
Sophomores: Duane Gibson, Jaylon Brown, Christian Benzon, Blake Simmons, David Howard (RS soph), Sergej Vucetic*
Juniors: Taylor Stafford, D.J. Balentine, Adam Wing, Mislav Brzoja, Mike Leazer, Willie Wiley, Egidijus Mockevicius
Senior: Jaylon Moore
*Vucetic will sit out in 2014-15, but will have two years of eligibility left, therefore part of the class of 2017

Now comes the fun part: re-predicting what UE will look like in the upcoming season. Stafford and Wiley will be able to play immediately, which will give the Aces more options, and in two years, the addition of Vucetic (and potentially any incoming 2015 freshmen) will just pad UE’s depth.

Here’s my take on next year’s Aces:

Stafford could possibly grab the starting point guard spot from Duane Gibson. Stafford is undersized, but he’s an excellent outside shooter, something Gibson and Jaylon Brown weren’t able to develop last season. Stafford’s 40.2 3-point percentage is outrageous and was NJCAA’s fourth-leading scorer with 25 points per game. Stafford said he prefers point guard, but he also plays well off the ball (think D.J. Balentine-esque). If Stafford’s experience and scoring trumps Gibson’s ball-handling and decision-making, that makes the point guard spot a three-man rotation with Stafford, Gibson and Brown. Minutes will be competitive in the backcourt.

UE will immediately go big. At 6-foot-7, 215 pounds, Wiley is a more athletic and stronger Ryan Sawvell and has comparative size to Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early (Early is 6-foot-7, 207). He’s also more dominant on the boards than Sawvell was, averaging 8.3 rebounds per game last season at Vincennes. Add him to 6-foot-10 Egidijus Mockevicius and the Aces may not have to worry about being outrebounded as much — they lost the rebounding battle 16 times this season.

But the Aces will have ample opportunity to go both big or small. UE can have a tall, rebound-happy frontcourt with Wiley and Mockevicius, but can also go smaller with a combination of David Howard (6-foot-8), Jaylon Moore (6-foot-7), and Blake Simmons (6-foot-5). The Aces don’t have a big backcourt to begin with, but add 6-foot-4 Mislav Brzoja and 6-foot-4 Adam Wing into the mix at the ’3′ and that’s a significantly taller lineup than last year. It’s easy to see UE going small, though: Jaylon Brown is 6-foot-0, Stafford is 6-foot-1, Balentine is 6-foot-2, Duane Gibson is 6-foot-3. Throw three of them in with Simmons and Moore/Wiley and you’ve got a quicker, smaller Aces lineup.

In 2015-16, UE will have even more options. That’s when Vucetic will be eligible and the Aces will lose just Jaylon Moore to graduation, and I think you can see where I’m going with this. The frontcourt will be Vucetic, Mockevicius, Wiley, Howard and the backcourt will be stacked with Stafford, Gibson, Brown, Balentine, Wing, Brzoja, and Christian Benzon. And that’s not even including any 2015 freshmen that UE signs.

The Morning After: Illinois State

Now that we’ve all had 14 hours to digest the game, here we go.

Stories from last night’s OT thriller:

–Courier & Press: http://bit.ly/MOJGQ5
–Bloomington Pantagraph: http://bit.ly/1gv54EC

Some observations:

–An hour or so earlier, Indiana blew an 11-point lead at home to Penn State and lost the game. When Illinois State started creeping back in the game, the thought that UE could collapse like the Hoosiers crossed my mind. After Nick Zeisloft hit his fourth 3-pointer of the night to give the Redbirds their first (and eventually only) lead of the night, what impressed me most was how the Aces kept attacking. The refs were calling the game tight all night and D.J. Balentine recognized that, getting to the line twice in the final minute of regulation to give the Aces the lead again. Luckily for the Aces, they didn’t end up like the Hoosiers.

–Speaking of free throws, 56 attempts is ridiculous. The last time UE attempted 50+ free throws was against Norfolk State in 2010. In the four-game slump, head coach Marty Simmons stressed the importance of the team continuing to play aggressively and getting to the basket. That came in flurries last night. Between the 15:39 and 8:15 marks of the second half, 16 of UE’s 20 points came from the foul line. Yes, it makes the game slower but it also puts the other team in foul trouble. Four Illinois State players fouled out, including its three top scorers, thinning the bench and forcing inexperienced players to perform in clutch situations.

–More about free throws: D.J. Balentine and Jaylon Brown. Brown is a 44 percent shot from the foul line on the season and he came up huge for the Aces, hitting all four of his shots to seal the game. Duane Gibson fouled out at the end of regulation, which essentially gave Brown his “time to shine,” and Balentine went 20-for-25, tying the single-game record for most made free throws.

–The first 20ish minutes of the game were exactly how the Aces played at the very beginning of the season. They were confident — surprisingly so, seeing how they played their past four games — aggressive, persistent on the glass. That’s how they started out 5-0, and that’s how Simmons has been urging his team to play the entirety of the MVC season. We saw glimpses of it — at Southern Illinois, against Bradley, at times at Missouri State and Illinois State — and we saw a full half of it last night.

Some quotes:

–Balentine on whether UE was prepared for Illinois State’s switch to man-to-man defense: “Not really. We played against man all the time. But for them, no. They haven’t played man all year in conference, so that’s what coach said at halftime, that we have to be prepared.”

–Balentine on if the 5:05 stretch without a FG was a concern: “Not really. We’re going to have those moments where we can’t hit anything. That’s where we have to attack and get to the FT line. That’s the main thing—if shots arent’ falling, get to the bucket.”

–Simmons’ initial thoughts: “Really proud of our team. There are so many times during the last five minutes and during the overtime where it looked like we were ready to break. Lots of frustration, a lot of disappointment, guys weren’t feeling confident. For them to bond together and to fight through it and make good play after good play to win the game, I’m proud of them. They deserve it.”

And some #statnuggets:

– UE’s 104 points marked the most since scoring 115 at Hawaii-Hilo on Nov. 28, 1998 and was the most versus a Division I opponent since taking a 110-64 win over South Alabama on Dec. 14, 1994.

–It was the most against a conference opponent since taking a 115-104 road win at Loyola on in 1989 and was the highest home conference output since a 109-83 win over Dayton that same season. Of significance in that game was Scott Haffner’s school record of 65 points.

–The most free throw attempts UE had all season prior to last night was 39 against Miami (Ohio).

–The Aces had three players in double figures after just the first half: Balentine, Blake Simmons and Egidijus Mockevicius. At the end of the game, UE still had three players in double figures.

The Morning After: Bradley

The 6-foot-0 freshman guard got his first start Sunday vs. Bradley.

The 6-foot-0 freshman guard got his first start Sunday vs. Bradley.

Stories from Sunday’s 66-60 win over Bradley:

–Courier & Press: http://bit.ly/L2qtt8
–Peoria Journal Star: http://bit.ly/1f6Ea3u

Some observations:

–UE whipped out the pick and roll in early possessions and played stifling defense in the first half of the game. I was really impressed with how the Aces (especially Adam Wing and Egidijus Mockevicius) hedged ball screens        to keep Walt Lemon Jr. from going off and how well Mockevicius recovered in the paint to prevent easy looks inside. Bradley head coach Geno Ford said the first 20 minutes is what sealed the Braves’ fate despite his team’s comeback in the second half, and he’s right. UE took an early lead, held onto it, and didn’t crumble under pressure late in the game — signs of a maturing team.

–I expected a bit of the game to be a D.J. Balentine-Walt Lemon Jr. showdown — Lemon Jr. guarded Balentine at the beginning of the game — but UE did a fantastic job shutting down the Bradley guard in the first half. Jaylon Brown was tasked with guarding Lemon Jr. from the opening tip, as Brown got his first career start, and his athleticism really showed as he kept up with Lemon Jr. Hedging screens also helped contain Lemon, as hedging screens prevented him from driving to the basket after separation from his defender.

–The biggest takeaway from the game isn’t how any one individual played; it’s how the team played as a whole. I remember tweeting midway through the first half that this may be the best team basketball the Aces have played all season, and I stand by that. After stringing together five solid games in the conference, even if two of them are losses, UE seems to be gelling again. And at the right time: the Aces have road trips to Northern Iowa and Wichita State on the schedule this week.

Some quotes:

–UE head coach Marty Simmons on Balentine’s 3-pointer with a minute to play: “It certainly gave us a big boost. No doubt. Shot clock’s winding down, ball fake, bam. He was ready to shoot. He shot with confidence, but our ability to get a stop on the next possession was the key possession to me. At times throughout this season we’d score big baskets but we haven’t been able to go down at the other end and make a stop.”

–Balentine on the first half: “I think we played solid defense at the beginning. We held Walt’s penetration down a lot and we tried to take their bigs out of the game early. For the most part, we were clicking.”

–Bradley head coach Geno Ford on the Braves’ good second half run: “We did enough good things in the second half to win, but when you’re coming from 10 down it makes it tougher.”

MVC Monday: Shockers up, Bulldogs down

mvclogo-Wichita State is one of three undefeated teams left in the nation, and there’s speculation the Shockers could remain unbeaten for a while. They had a scare at Missouri State, but looking at their upcoming schedule, it doesn’t seem like Wichita State will be dropping a game any time soon.

–Seth Tuttle was named MVC Player of the Week this week after posting a career-high 24 points in a win over SIU and followed it up with 21 points against Missouri State. And in his first career start with the Bears, Ron Mvouika scored a career-high 28 points, earning him MVC Newcomer of the Week honors.

–The Indiana State-Wichita State matchup on Saturday featured two 5-0 teams in the conference since 2008.

Standings:

1. Wichita State (6-0, 19-0): Not much needs to be said about one of the best teams in the country, but every Valley team will have their home game against the No. 4 team in the country circled on their calendars. The Shockers are getting offense from anybody and everybody on their team, including sensational, surprising guard Fred VanVleet.

2. Indiana State (5-1, 14-4): Despite a tough loss to the Shockers, the Sycamores are still the second best team in the conference. ISU gets to play Wichita State at home, which is probably the biggest chance the Shockers will be upset.

3. Illinois State (4-2, 11-7): The Redbirds have opened MVC play on their best streak since 2009-10 when they also started 4-2. And they welcome Wichita State to Redbird Arena this week to enact revenge on a 19-point loss a week and a half earlier.

4. Northern Iowa (4-2, 10-8): A surprising loss to Southern Illinois is the only negative for the Panthers so far. UNI has scored at least 76 points in every MVC win and has led by double digits in each of the six games. Unfortunately for them, two of those leads disappeared and turned into losses.

5. Missouri State (2-4, 12-6): The Bears lost Marcus Marshall to a season-ending knee injury, but numerous players have stepped up on offense. Mvouika led the team in scoring in Missouri State’s last game while in the last three games, the Bears have had three different players lead the team in scoring.

6. Evansville (2-4, 9-10): UE is on the rise, winning two of its past three conference games and looks to be avoiding playing on Thursday in Saint Louis for now. But a tough road stretch in the Aces’ schedule looms.

7. Loyola (2-4, 7-11): The Ramblers are a perfect 7-0 when scoring at least 70 points and have two quality wins over Missouri State and Drake in the conference. Milton Doyle continues his impressive scoring average of 15.1 points per game.

8. Bradley (2-4, 7-12): The Braves haven’t won a road game all season and will get a chance to break that streak Sunday at Evansville. The conference road losing streak dates back to 2013, an 11-game drought, and it looks to continue as the surging Aces are one of the strongest home teams.

9. Southern Illinois (2-4, 6-13): The Salukis got a huge win over Northern Iowa last week, erasing a 17-point deficit en route to their 68-66 win. The last time SIU came back from a 17-point deficit? Last season vs. Wichita State.

10. Drake (1-5, 10-8): Just a couple weeks after being the Valley’s biggest surprise, the Bulldogs have fallen to the basement. Drake opened up the conference season with a convincing win over the Aces but have dropped five straight games. Doesn’t look like Ray Giacoletti’s squad is adjusting to the Valley yet, but there’s still plenty of basketball to be played.

The Morning After: Loyola

Stories from UE’s second MVC win over Loyola:

–Courier & Press: http://bit.ly/KsXgI3
–Chicago Sun Times: http://bit.ly/1hGGYqJ

Some observations:

–UE looks like it’s clicking, and the defense took major strides Saturday. Despite poor shooting and offensive execution by both teams, the Aces had numerous steals and great rebounding to not let Loyola break open the game. The biggest Rambler run was 10-0 to give them a nine-point lead, but it could’ve been worse — UE went 0-for-8 from the floor during the run.

–There were lots of big-time plays by inexperienced players on Saturday. Freshman guard Duane Gibson hit a turnaround jumper with less than two minutes to go to give UE a three-point lead. The Aces seemed stuck on offense and Gibson created for himself. UE turned around and forced Loyola to a shot clock violation and that pretty much sealed the game. Two big plays down the stretch that proved the Aces are improving.

–Sophomore center Egidijus Mockevicius was one of the most impactful players on the court Saturday. He had five rebounds, four blocks and three steals, poking his hands in like a guard instead of a 6-foot-10 post player. He altered so many Loyola plays, which don’t show up on the stat sheet, but gets noticed by the coaching staff.

Some quotes:

–Head coach Marty Simmons on the slow start: “They really defended us a lot like Northern Iowa, and we turned it over at the beginning of the game like Northern Iowa. The difference was we were able to get some stops. They extended the lead a little bit, but it never got out of hand. The end of the first half was probably as important as anything.”

–Freshman forward Blake Simmons on the offense: “As the game went on, our offense started clicking more, we started getting more open shots, I think we all came together in the second half and it helped us get this win. It was an ugly game, both teams weren’t making their shots.”

–Gibson on the slowness of the game: “The pace of the game was great. That’s the pace we wanted to play. We just have to make more shots and finish at the rim.”