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:
–Bloomington Pantagraph:

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:
–Peoria Journal Star:

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.


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:
–Chicago Sun Times:

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.”

MVC Monday: Shockers continue historic streak, sit at 17-0

mvclogo–Missouri State nearly upset then-No. 6 Wichita State Saturday night, but the Bears blew a 19-point lead in the 72-69 overtime loss. Now, the Shockers are one of only eight MVC teams to start a season 17-0 and moved up to No. 5 in this week’s AP poll.

–Jarmar Gulley from MSU is this week’s Player of the Week after averaging 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in the Bears’ two games. He cashed in on a career-high 14 rebounds in the loss to Wichita State, as well. Northern Iowa’s Wes Washpun is the Valley’s Newcomer of the Week as the Panthers won both conference games.

–Two MVC players are averaging at least 20 points per game this season: D.J. Balentine and SIU’s Desmar Jackson. The two went head-to-head Saturday, as Balentine put up a career-high 33 points while Jackson tallied 13.


1. Wichita State (4-0, 17-0): The Shockers are bound to lose at some point, and it looked like Missouri State would be the one to do it. A 19-point comeback and a dominant overtime was enough for the league’s top team to come away with a win. It’ll take a full 40 minutes to beat these guys.

2. Indiana State (4-0, 13-3): The Sycamores have a tough week as they face Missouri State and Wichita State, but Greg Lansing’s team is the most likely to steal the Valley crown from the Shockers this season. Fun fact: Indiana State is the only team in the nation with five scorers in double figures who shoot at least 33 percent from beyond the arc.

3. Northern Iowa (3-1, 9-7): UNI is scoring at its highest rate since the 1986-87 season, as the Panthers average 71.8 points per game. Their 50.9 percent clip against Evansville was their highest road shooting percentage in two years.

4. Missouri State (2-2, 12-4): The Bears should get better from their collapse against Wichita State, and Indiana State and Northern Iowa should be on the lookout for a Missouri State team on a mission this week. What we also learned from the loss? Springfield is no easy place to play.

5. Illinois State (2-2, 9-7): The Redbirds’ defense is a force in the conference that held Wichita State to 11 points below its average and Loyola to a season-low field goal shooting percentage. How they’ll handle D.J. Balentine on Wednesday is another story.

6. Drake (1-3, 10-6): Ray Giacoletti’s squad that surprised many in the Valley is on a three-game losing streak. Richard Carter has strung together six 20-plus point games this season as a key to the Bulldogs’ offense.

7. Evansville (1-3, 8-9): The Aces’ win at Southern Illinois Saturday was the first in which the team shot under 50 percent from the field and won. Rebounding is also a telltale stat for UE, but it faces Illinois State’s defense in a midweek road test.

8. Loyola (1-3, 6-10): Milton Doyle is arguably the league’s best freshman, racking up 234 points in 16 games. He looks to be the first freshman to 500 points in a season since Doug McDermott three years ago.

9. Bradley (1-3, 6-11): The road isn’t getting any easier for the Braves. They wrap up a tough five-game stand with a trip to Wichita — Bradley’s currently on a seven-game road losing streak — before hosting Southern Illinois.

10. Southern Illinois (1-3, 5-12): The Salukis escaped the basement for just a game, but lost to Evansville Saturday and are back at the bottom. Marcus Fillyaw is out for a few weeks with a broken hand, but Jalen Pendleton has filled in nicely for the point guard.

The Morning After: Southern Illinois

Another career game for Balentine this season. The sophomore finished with 33 points.

Another career game for Balentine this season. The sophomore finished with 33 points.

Stories from UE’s first MVC win at SIU yesterday:

–Courier & Press:
–The Southern:

Some observations:

–The Aces looked a lot more loose, relaxed, and confident than they had since they started 5-0, and now with a conference win under their belt, that feeling will continue. D.J. Balentine looked like his typical self when looking to shoot and Egidijus Mockevicius was a force inside — 12 points and 10 rebounds is nothing to scoff at even if Balentine had 33 points — and had a key and-one in the final minutes of the game to preserve the lead. Blake Simmons had a solid performance and Duane Gibson and Adam Wing contributed when needed. It was a good effort by the five starters.

–That being said, UE still has a lot of work to do. Balentine can’t drop a career-high every night and the defense can’t take 10 minutes to adjust on the opposing team’s shooters. The Aces started out lead-footed and left open shooters in the beginning of the game, allowing Southern Illinois to go on an 11-0 run early.

–The bench was also absent from the game. With Jaylon Brown out with a concussion, UE played just four reserves and Tyler Ptacek was the only player off the bench with points.  Brown, when he’s in, Jaylon Moore and Christian Benzon typically score on energy plays, but I guess those aren’t needed when Balentine’s hitting six of his seven 3-pointers. Usually the bench is a factor, as I’m sure it will be moving forward.

–Gibson and Wing were very important in the final minutes of the game. The freshman was 6-for-6 down the stretch while Wing hit both of his free throws to maintain UE’s four-point lead. The Salukis had two 3-point plays in the final minute of the game in efforts to chip away at the lead point-by-point, and missed free throws would’ve kept SIU in the game longer than they were. Saturday was the first time we saw clutch free throw shooting in over a month — it’ll also do wonders for the team’s confidence from the line, as they’ve been struggling lately.

–Maybe bowling worked? We won’t know for sure until Wednesday. One game is a good start, but UE’s next game against Illinois State will be the true sign of whether or not the Aces are back to competing like they have shown.

Some quotes:

–Head coach Marty Simmons’ first thoughts about the win: “I’m just happy for the guys in the locker room. We’ve had a slow start here and those guys have hung in there and keep battling and they’re a good group and just glad to see them get a victory.”

–Wing on the Aces’ zone: “The zone was really good to us, they hit some big threes and we haven’t played zone all season. We had been planning for it the past two games but we just got so far behind that when we got in the zone they could just pick us apart.”

–SIU head coach Barry Hinson on scouting Balentine: “We obviously didn’t. Seriously, he had 33 points, so whatever we said didn’t work.”

The Morning After: Northern Iowa

Blake Simmons was the only Ace in double figures, scoring a career-high 16 points.

Blake Simmons was the only Ace in double figures, scoring a career-high 16 points.

Stories from UNI’s handling of Evansville:

–Courier & Press:
–Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier:

Some observations:

–That was probably the worst effort by the team all season. UE seemed deflated right from the start after UNI took an 11-point lead minutes into the game, and it all went downhill from there. The numbers weren’t bad — 40 percent from the field, 43 percent from beyond the arc (just 3-of-7 though), 30 points in the paint — but the effort just didn’t seem to be there. Fifteen turnovers is definitely high, and the Aces have done worse, but when passes into the lane are easily deflected or stolen or a player is stripped on a drive and nothing’s done to change it, that’s an issue.

–I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but missed layups keeps hurting UE. There’s no stat for missed layups, but there were several last night. Lots were off-balance shots or hit a bad angle off the glass. Of course it takes awareness to control your body and shot when a defender is contesting your shot and that happens, but that doesn’t happen every time. If I was a coach, though, I’d rather be seeing my players driving to the basket than taking long-range shots. A few more made layups is a simple fix that should bring more confidence back to the team.

–Starting off 0-3 in the conference is obviously not the way UE imagined to start, but losing those three games by an average of 24.7 points per game isn’t acceptable. The Aces play Southern Illinois in Carbondale this weekend, a manageable game, but the Valley schedule doesn’t get easier. UE still has to play Wichita State and Missouri State twice — two of the league’s top teams — and has to play Indiana State in Terre Haute after losing to the Sycamores by 28 last Saturday. With the Salukis’ win over Loyola last night, UE is the last team in the league. So far, no good news for the Aces. Things need to change.

The Morning After: Indiana State

Stories from Indiana State’s 81-62 win over Evansville:

–Courier & Press:
–Terre Haute Tribune Star:

Some observations:

–Jaylon Moore had a fantastic game, but unfortunately that was overshadowed by the bad loss. For the first time in several games, the Aces played two forwards and benefitted from it. Moore had 14 points, taking advantage of a mismatch with smaller Sycamore defenders as the bigger forwards were focused on defending Egidijus Mockevicius and David Howard. Mismatches like that figure to be common in the rest of the Valley, so maybe we’ll see more games like this from Moore.

–The guards need to get their confidence back. For the second time this season — the first time since the Anderson game — Duane Gibson was held scoreless, going 0-for-4 from the field. At the beginning of the season, Gibson had a nose for the basket and was aggressive in dribble penetration. When you see so many shots fall short or bounce off the rim, yes, confidence is hard to come by, but Gibson is a playmaker around the basket and in transition that UE needs to shoot the ball. Same with Jaylon Brown. Adam Wing hit a couple of baskets Saturday, and he’s been the most consistent guard not named D.J. Balentine, so he can be a leader to the freshmen guards who’ve been struggling recently. With a backcourt full of weapons, the Aces will be a more balanced team.

–D.J. Balentine can’t do it all. The sophomore guard had 23 points, 12 of them in the first 10 minutes of the game, but when the Sycamores started playing tighter and double-teaming him, UE’s offense puttered out. One player doesn’t make a team, and if the guards can get confidence back and the post can continue to be effective (think Moore’s game on Saturday and Mockevicius’ several consecutive double-figure games), UE could return to their 5-0 form.

–Like Moore and head coach Marty Simmons said after the game, the team needs to keep up intensity for 40 minutes. That’s probably the biggest problem right now, is keeping up the energy, effort, and execution for the whole game. Like Simmons said, the past two games have been lost in the second half. With some leadership, a bit more confidence and good practices, that can be fixed.

The Morning After: Butler

Gibson struggled against Butler, making just one shot and committing five turnovers.

Gibson struggled against Butler, making just one shot and committing five turnovers.

Stories from last night’s 68-59 loss to Butler:

–Courier & Press:
–Indianapolis Star: 

Some observations:

–The game was a lot closer than the final score indicated. UE resorted to fouling and Butler hit 11 of its last 12 free throws, which inflated the score. Regardless, it was a competitive game. The teams traded baskets for the majority of the match, then the Bulldogs went on their 8-0 run.

–You could play the “what if” game in a ton of situations, and I’m going to do it here: What if the Aces made their shots early in the game? Butler took 14 3-pointers in the first half, and made just three. UE took lots of layups and short jumpers, and missed those, too. Statistics are in favor of Evansville making those shots more often than not, of course, and if the Aces had made a few of those, they might’ve had a six- or eight-point lead heading into the locker room. But they didn’t. A couple of missed chances early hurt them later in the game when Butler made its run, and that’s that.

–UE played great team defense for most of the game, shutting down Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall. I was really impressed with how Adam Wing kept Marshall out of the paint and forced him to take outside shots, which he wasn’t as comfortable with. The Aces also did a fine job helping on Dunham when he looked to drive inside. You’re obviously not going to stop him completely, but holding him to six shots in the first half was impressive.

–Freshman guard Duane Gibson did not play his best game Saturday, which didn’t help the offense. He’s been working on his outside shot in practice, and he seemed to gain some confidence, taking a few more long jumpers against Butler, even if none of them fell. Yeah, they didn’t, fall, but it’s progress. Gibson’s an athletic guard with a nose for the basket, and a solid jump shot will only make him more of a threat, and it’ll draw a defender out to the perimeter and spread the defense, giving Gibson the option to drive, shoot, or dish to a teammate for a better look.

Some quotes:

–UE head coach Marty Simmons on the team’s rebounding effort: “They got us on the glass. I thought our guys were trying. I saw guys looking to block out, I say guys working to block out. Khyle Marshall, he’s a hell of a player. He’s been doing this for a long time. We have to get better at it, we have to get physically and mentally tougher. We have to be able to block guys like (Marshall) out. I don’t think it was because guys weren’t trying to block out.”

–Wing on the early missed shots: “I know early on we might’ve missed six layups in the first half that could’ve been huge for us. I can’t remember us missing that many, but layups are going to fall. I’m confident, I’m glad guys are being aggressive. We’ll be okay.”

–Balentine on the early missed shots: “Similar to IU. IU had a lot of big guys down there that caused us to miss easy bunnies. Woods is very athletic and long, and so is Marshall, but for the most part it’s on us.”

–Butler head coach Brandon Miller on the Bulldogs’ penchant for 3-pointers in the first half: “We were open. They gave certain guys look, they played off certain guys, all the confidence in the world in terms of our guys stepping up and making the shots. We had some shot sin the first half that we normally make, Even the percentages would say that we normally make it.”

MVC Monday: Wichita State at a program-best 10-0

mvclogo–Loyola’s Milton Doyle was named both Player and Newcomer of the Week in the Missouri Valley Conference this week, after scoring a Rambler freshman record 32 points in a win over Campbell. His 32 broke Tony Parker Sr.’s previous record of 31 points, set during the 1973-74 season.

–With a win over Tennessee, Wichita State is one of 14 Division-I teams still undefeated. At 10-0, the best start in program history, the Shockers are ranked No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 11 in the AP poll.

–The Missouri Valley Conference schools have combined for 18 losses by less than six points. All five of Loyola’s losses have been close, Indiana State’s two losses have been by a single point, and Evansville has dropped three games by six points or less.


1. Wichita State (10-0): It was obvious the Shockers would sit atop the standings, but possibly not with a flawless record and its highest ranking in program history. Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early are playing well, as predicted, but Tekele Cotton’s career-high 19 points, all in the second half, was the story of Wichita State’s win over Tennessee.

2. Missouri State (8-1): With Marcus Marshall and Keith Pickens back, the Bears are set to take on the defending national champions this week. Marshall, one of eight on the preseason all-MVC first team, is averaging 13.5 points per game.

3. Indiana State (7-2): The Sycamores are off to their best start under Greg Lansing and have won four of five road games so far this season, thanks in part to their league-leading 79.1 points per game.

4. Drake (6-3): Under first-year head coach Ray Giacoletti, the Bulldogs are the surprise team so far in the MVC, but a season-ending injury to senior guard Gary Ricks, Jr. may hurt the team moving forward. Ricks averaged 12.3 points per game while shooting 45 percent from 3-point range, and now a lot of the scoring burden may fall on Richard Carter, the team’s leading scorer at 20.3 points per game.

5. Illinois State (5-4): The Redbirds have one four straight, including a win over then-No. 25 Dayton, thanks to double-digit performances from several of their freshmen. Daishon Knight and Zach Lofton lead Illinois State with 14.4 and 13.2 points per game, respectively.

6. Evansville (6-5): The Aces have lost five of their last six games after starting the season 5-0 and have just one road win, an 84-78 victory at IUPUI last month. Egidijus Mockevicius has been playing well for UE lately, with five consecutive double-figure games, but the rest of the team has struggled.

T7. Bradley (5-5): Like Evansville, the Braves are on a slump, dropping four of their last five games, but Walt Lemon, Jr. is on the rise. With 14 points in Bradley’s Dec. 10 game, he moved to 20th on the Braves’ all-time scoring list.

T7. Loyola (5-5): The Ramblers are a perfect 4-0 at home this season, and the MVC Player/Newcomer of the Week Milton Doyle has shined at home, averaging 23 points per game.

T7. Northern Iowa (5-5): Though the Panthers have underwhelmed, a win against VCU and a close loss to No. 17 Iowa State may have put naysayers to rest. Nate Buss has played well, leading the team with 14.4 points per game and the leagues second-best field goal percentage (65.7 percent).

10. Southern Illinois (2-7): Desmar Jackson is the league’s second-leading scorer (20.4 points per game) and at 1,454 career points, has the highest total of any active player in  the MVC. Aside from him, the Salukis are hoping for their third win when they travel to Murray State Tuesday.

The Morning After: Jackson State

The sophomore center had the lone good game of any Ace, with 16 points and seven rebounds

The sophomore center had the lone good game of any Ace, with 16 points and seven rebounds.

Story from last night’s loss to Jackson State:

–Courier & Press:

Some observations:

–The Aces team we saw Saturday looked like a completely different one than the one that showed up against Xavier. Coach Simmons said the team was down after the loss, which is logical, but coming back home to play an easier team than the Musketeers should’ve been motivation to build back confidence. This game was the low point for UE so far this season — Simmons said after the game “there’s not an area of the game our team can’t improve on” — and the young Aces have a long way to go to build back up to the confidence they had when they were 5-0.

–One of the biggest concerns for UE’s offense besides their poor shooting — it’s going to happen every once in a while, even to the best teams — was the defense on sophomore guard D.J. Balentine. You could tell the Aces wanted to give him the ball early and get him a couple of easy baskets to build his confidence, but the way Jackson State was defending him didn’t allow for many open looks. Early in the game, Balentine would run a curl off a screen from the elbow and freshman guard Duane Gibson would look to feed him the ball at the free throw line, but many times the Tigers collapsed or would help off of the screen and Balentine couldn’t get free. Even off the dribble, the defense would help when he drove to the paint. Balentine had a better second half, but 3-of-13 from the field isn’t what he’s capable of.

–The Aces’ defense hasn’t been stellar all season, but there was one play they just couldn’t stop: the drive and dish. Jackson State’s guards would drive to the paint, draw help from UE’s big men and dish to Brandon West, who was open for the layup. A simple, yet effective play for the Tigers, allowing West to tally 14 points and 22 rebounds.

The Morning After: Xavier

Balentine had a better second half, but his final shot to tie the game didn't fall.

Balentine had a better second half, but his final shot to tie the game didn’t fall.

Stories from last night’s 63-60 loss at Xavier:

–Courier & Press:
–Cincinnati Enquirer:

Some observations:

–That was the best first half of road basketball Evansville has played all season. The Aces shot 50 percent from the floor, forced eight turnovers, and outrebounded the Musketeers, 17-10, all en route to a 32-25 halftime lead. Another reason it was great team basketball: even without D.J. Balentine, UE’s offense was still clicking. Balentine had just two points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first half, but plenty of other players stepped up in his absence. Egidijus Mockevicius had a great first half with nine points and played aggressively with much success, and Blake Simmons played well with seven points and four rebounds.

–What was most impressive about the first half, though, was probably the defense, which UE has struggled ith all year. Xavier was held to just 33 percent from the floor and 12.5 percent from beyond the arc, and the Aces’ trap gave the Musketeers trouble when they tried to pass into the paint. Mockevicius and Jaylon Moore did a good job preventing Matt Stainbrook from getting easy layups, and the team limited Xavier’s transition game, just like head coach Marty Simmons said would be an emphasis in practice. That probably was the best defensive effort all season, as well.

–As good as the Aces’ free throw shooting has been all season, UE struggled down the stretch, going 2-for-8 in the second half. It’s not the only reason the Aces lost the game, but it certainly contributed to it. Especially in close contests, the better free throw-shooting team is typically going to win games.

–Same goes for fouling. In the past three games, Mockevicius was able to play the majority of the first half, as he didn’t pick up early fouls, as was the case Tuesday night. But both he and Duane Gibson picked up early third and fourth fouls, forcing Simmons to sit them for a bit of the second half. Not that Jaylon Brown, Christian Benzon, or Moore were poor as replacements, but it’s noticeable when 40 percent of the starting lineup isn’t on the floor.

–You could tell Balentine wants to be the go-to guy in late-game situations if he hasn’t already proved that. The sophomore went 5-for-10 in the second half and hit two of his four 3-pointers, and he was the one with the ball in his hands as the shot clock wound down and when UE needed a basket to keep with Xavier in the final minutes. That doesn’t come without both good and bad moments — Balentine missed two free throws with a minute left, and missed a layup and the final shot to tie it. His moment will come, it just wasn’t last night.