The Morning After: Wichita State-UE

Colt Ryan scored a game-high 24 points in UE's upset win Sunday against Wichita State. MOLLY BARTELS/C&P

Colt Ryan scored a game-high 24 points in UE’s upset win Sunday against Wichita State. MOLLY BARTELS/C&P

Links from UE’s 71-67 win over No. 23 Wichita State, the Aces’ fourth straight victory:

—Courier & Press: Aces’ upset of Wichita State may be best performance yet
—Wichita Eagle: UE defeats turnover-prone Wichita State
—Associated Press: UE rallies to beat Wichita State
—UE student Bryce Weiler: Two victories for Purple Aces

Some observations:

Creighton’s predictably solid play aside, the Missouri Valley Conference is a wacky place right now. And a four-game winning streak has UE second, right where the Aces should logically hope to finish at season’s end. Wichita State (4-1) could drop a few more games due to injuries, and slow league starts by Northern Iowa (2-3) as well as Illinois State (0-5) lowered their chances dramatically. Indiana State (3-2) and Bradley (2-3) pose that can-win-on-any-night threat, but those are all win-able games given the way the Aces are playing now. It’s still early in league play — UE has 13 games left — but the Aces have positioned themselves to finish second, sit on the opposite side of the Arch Madness bracket from Creighton and hope for the best on a neutral court. With how good the Bluejays are this season, that’s about all the Aces can ask for in terms of NCAA tournament chances.

—UE senior Colt Ryan already averaged about four assists per game heading into Sunday’s game, but Ryan is a completely different threat when he can score a game-high 24 points while adding eight assists. There simply aren’t many forwards out there tallying that many assists, but Ryan does it by drawing attention to his own offense. He again scored a number of different ways Sunday — everything from transition 3s to stop-and-pop jumpers to curling off a screen on an inbounds play. That opened up opportunities for a guy like freshman D.J. Balentine to score eight points and break out of a slump, as well as senior Ned Cox to get looks from beyond the arc in a 3-for-6 3-point shooting night.

—UE will continue working on its end-game management. The Aces nearly gave away the Missouri State game by throwing away an inbounds pass against the press, allowing the Bears to force overtime. This time around, Wichita State nearly made a six-point deficit disappear in seconds. Off a Jordan Jahr missed free throw, Shockers senior Malcolm Armstead scored 10 seconds later. Then up 66-62 inside a minute to go, UE again turned it over against the press and allowed a corner 3-pointer by Wichita State’s top scorer, Cleanthony Early, making it a one-point game. The Shockers had two chances to tie then in a game the Aces should have finished off much earlier.

—Moving ahead, how will UE handle success? The answer, most likely, is well — or at least better than in the past. Sunday’s victory marked the Aces’ first over a ranked opponent, and it came in front of a boisterous Ford Center crowd. But this is a Marty Simmons-coached team — the last thing he’ll do is let his squad get a big head — and UE starts four seniors. That bunch, which includes Ryan, Cox, Troy Taylor and Lewis Jones, hasn’t ever posted more than 16 wins in a season. The foursome does, however, have some experiences to think back on. Two seasons ago the Aces beat then-No. 23 Butler and followed with a loss. Last season they beat then-No. 15 Creighton and next lost to Drake. This season it’s Drake again after a victory over No. 23 Wichita State.

—Fans who attended Sundays games at the Ford Center witnessed a rarity: both the men’s and women’s teams won on the same day. It happened once last season on Dec. 10, when the women beat Murray State and the men North Carolina A&T. But the last time the Aces’ hoops teams swept a pair of MVC games? You’d have to go back to Jan. 31, 2009, when the women knocked off Wichita State and the men Southern Illinois at Roberts Stadium.

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