Stories from UE’s 67-62 loss Saturday at Illinois State, the Aces’ third defeat in four games:
—Courier & Press: Big runs down UE at Illinois State as Aces’ offense sags
—Pantagraph: Redbirds beat UE for third straight MVC win
—Peoria Journal Star: Dynamic duo keeps Illinois State hot
—UE student Bryce Weiler: Aces split two games this week
—Well then. Exactly two weeks ago, UE upset No. 23 Wichita State at the Ford Center for the Aces’ fourth straight win as talk of Missouri Valley Conference championship chances heated up. If only someone could beat Creighton and get the Bluejays out of the Aces’ way. Wichita State and Drake both did. But in the meantime, UE dropped three of its next four games. There’s plenty of basketball left to be played this season — half the conference schedule against nine different teams for UE — though no matter what happens from here, the Aces will probably look back at these last 14 days as their best and possibly only shot to take control of the league standings.
—Before every MVC game involving UE, the opposing coach is asked how he’ll defend Aces senior Colt Ryan. Typically, Ryan torched said coach’s team on at least one occasion in the past. That wasn’t the case for first-year coach Dan Muller and Illinois State, but Muller knew his game plan against Ryan anyway. The Redbirds contained the all-MVC forward by throwing different looks at him. Anywhere from four to six different defenders matched up against the Aces’ top scorer by the end of the night. If Ryan takes enough shots — he attempted 15 on Saturday — he’ll get points. But Ryan only made six of those (including 1 of 5 in the first half, when the Redbirds were really keyed in on him).
—I wrote this week that UE freshman Egidijus Mockevicius is becoming a force inside the painted area for the Aces. Becoming is the key word there as coach Marty Simmons looks for a reliable center on both ends of the court. Overall, and when he’s playing well, that’s Mockevicius. But last night he allowed six quick points from Illinois State’s Jackie Carmichael before Simmons went to sophomore Jaylon Moore, who then got into foul trouble during a first half where Carmichael recorded a double-double. Offensively, the Aces also tried going to Mockevicius at least three times, but he either didn’t catch the pass or wasn’t ready. Mockevicius ended the night scoreless on 0 for 1 shooting. The potential is there, though, for much more.
—Saturday had to be frustrating for UE senior Troy Taylor — a guy who if he fouls, he admits it and moves on. But Taylor fouled out of the Illinois State game — the first time he’s done that all season — and after some questionable whistles. His reaction to the first three, which were all reach-ins, told the whole story. Taylor still went for his usual team-high seven rebounds (five in the second half) and dished out six assists to just two turnovers. The Aces will miss both Taylor’s character on the court and that stat line next season.
—When UE hosts Northern Iowa on Tuesday, it will mark the first game in conference play against an opponent the Aces have already seen. And it comes against a Ben Jacobson-coached team. Simmons and his staff seem to have more respect for the Panthers’ coaches than anyone, so expect the Aces to enter with plenty of motivation. Northern Iowa will, too, considering it erased a huge UE lead only to have a last-second shot rim out earlier this season on its home court. It’s nearly down to now-or-never time in terms of offensive execution, and a loss Tuesday would make the Aces .500 in the league after a 4-1 start.