Stories from UE’s 79-72 road loss Saturday to Colorado State, which snapped the Aces’ four-game winning streak:
—C&P: UE’s rally falls short at Colorado State
—Fort Collins Coloradoan: CSU ties school record for best start with win over UE
—Denver Post: CSU Rams improve to 6-0
—The Sports Feast: Aces winning on the road, losing at home
—There may not be too many games this season in which UE shoots 50.9 percent from the field as well as gets 20-plus points from two different players (it was freshman D.J. Balentine and senior Colt Ryan against Colorado State). When those things do happen, it’s pretty important that the Aces do the little things right and get a win. On Saturday, that little thing turned out to be pretty big — rebounding — and coach Marty Simmons called his team to task after the Rams claimed a 41-22 advantage on the boards. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy also had this to say, per the Fort Collins newspaper: “I think Evansville, that’s not their game. That’s as good of an offense you’re going to see as far as execution. They’re a perimeter-oriented team. They’re real physical, but not a ‘go-get-it’ team. They really only had two offensive rebounds, the other two were dead balls.”
—The true benefits of Balentine being in UE’s rotation extend beyond just his scoring. While Balentine hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer Saturday, mostly on shots he created off the dribble and oftentimes made from behind the line, the Rams couldn’t afford to pay extra attention to Ryan, who was able to often drive against a single defender and make the difficult-looking shots he does. As a freshman, this quote from Balentine tells much in terms of what the Aces need from him: ”Coaches, they obviously know what I do, and they let me go and play my game out there.” It’s not that Balentine plays out of the system, but few players get that same freedom within it.
—When trying to make a comeback late, it’s a guy like senior Troy Taylor who can spark a rally with effort on both ends. But Taylor’s also holding the Aces back this season in an area where they struggled as a team on Saturday: free throws. As a team, UE shot an uncharacteristically poor 6 of 12 from the free throw line, lowering them on the season to 66.3 percent. Last season the Aces were collective 76.4 shooters on freebies, much in part due to senior Colt Ryan’s aptitude at the line. Senior Lewis Jones is 8 of 17 from the line this season and Taylor 10 of 22. Take those two away, and the rest of the team is shooting 80 percent on free throws. After UE passed up a 3-point shot inside of a minute to go (the score 76-70), Taylor got to the line and missed them both. The game was already out of reach but definitely over from there.
—The big-picture implications of the Colorado State loss likely mean that, without a huge run through Missouri Valley Conference play and non-conference wins over Murray State and Butler, this will not be an at-large NCAA tournament team. That’s not to say anyone expected that from the Aces, but that’s where they are now. Yet this is a team that, in each of its three losses, practically had to give the games away. Slow starts did them in against Notre Dame and Colorado State. UE then had to deal with losing Ryan in the Buffalo loss. The pieces all seem to be there to get favorable matchups — for instance, sophomores Ryan Sawvell (13 minutes) and Jordan Jahr (11 minutes) saw few minutes against Colorado State but are both liable to play 25-plus the next time out. Though not an at-large team, most of the MVC won’t want a piece of UE in the conference tournament.