Stories from UE’s 62-59 overtime victory Wednesday over Missouri State:
—Courier & Press: Aces use overtime to dispatch Bears, get first MVC win
—Springfield News-Leader: Evansville deals Missouri State overtime heartbreak
—Ugly, ugly win. It’s not one that many of the announced 3,721 fans at the Ford Center went home happy with, but UE coach Marty Simmons seemed pleased. Of course even Missouri State probably half expected to get blown out after Aces freshman Egidijus Mockevicius scored UE’s first eight points en route to finishing with 18, eight rebounds and five blocks. But winning any Missouri Valley Conference game lends itself to certain difficulties. On Wednesday, that meant beating a Paul Lusk-coached team that also played the Aces to two overtime losses last season. Be it matchups or game planning between Lusk and Simmons, expect another close one Feb. 2 when UE goes to Missouri State.
—It’s something I’ll write more about this week, but at this point Simmons is wiling to sacrifice size for better defense when opponents go small. That’s why he at one point fielded a lineup of Troy Taylor, Ned Cox, D.J. Balentine Colt Ryan and Lewis Jones — essentially five guards. If the opposition is screening without a true post man, that sort of lineup allows the Aces to navigate through picks and prevent 3-pointers. Simmons said the one time UE left Mockevicius in versus a small offense, the Aces went zone and gave up a triple from the corner. He expects an injury-plagued Southern Illinois team to do the same things on Saturday.
—What’s left to say that hasn’t already been said about Troy Taylor? He finished with 19 rebounds, two off UE’s all-time record. And in case you forgot, he’s 6-foot nothing and listed generously. Paul Lusk credited Taylor’s style — he gets a running start from the perimeter, calculates where the ball may carom off, and simply leaps at it — by saying this: “He an absolute winner. Nineteen rebounds — we have some guys who haven’t gotten that many in three or four games.” Taylor’s now averaging 7.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, both team-highs that put him in unique company as the only MVC player to lead his team in those statistical categories.
—Most shocking statistic last night: UE’s bench was out-scored 25-2, with those two points coming from a D.J. Balenitne bucket in the first half. Typically this season the Aces have had someone from the bench step up — usually it’s Balentine — while the rest of the team spreads around its scoring. UE has out-scored opposing benches a combined 373-233 this season. But just six players notched a point Wednesday, the fewest this season that matched the low set in a loss to Colorado State. The biggest reason for that statistic against Missouri State came with Mockevicius logging 32 minutes. It essentially took any time Ryan Sawvell (five minutes) and Jaylon Moore (three minutes) would get, especially with the Aces going small at the four spot with Lewis Jones.
—The win was big from the perspective that the Aces are now 1-1 in league play and not 0-2 (and staring 0-3 in the face with a tricky Southern Illinois team coming to the Ford Center this weekend). Simmons didn’t want to talk about end-of-season scenarios and said his team isn’t either, but gutting out a win such as Wednesday’s could be big at season’s end. It sure would have been last season, when UE finished in a tie for third place in the league. One more win, and the Aces end up the second seed at Arch Madness. “We lost so many games on last-second shots (last season), and we don’t want to go through that again this year,” Taylor said. A victory over Missouri State was a start.