Quotable from UE’s win over Northern Iowa

UE’s offense sputtered again, but the Aces continued their winning ways at home Tuesday with a 54-51 overtime victory against Northern Iowa at the Ford Center.

(It was announced beforehand that coach Marty Simmons has suspended sophomore Jordan Jahr for a violation of team rules. There’s no timetable yet for Jahr’s return.)

The Aces made 22 of 59 shots (37.3 percent) but rallied from a 47-71 deficit with 1:33 to play. “I just thought, ‘We’ve got to stay aggressive,’” said senior Troy Taylor. “Luckily they weren’t hitting shots on the other end because our defense stepped up.”

UE held Northern Iowa, which also shot 37 percent, scoreless for that final minute and a half of regulation and then through the first four minutes of overtime. “What I take from it,” Simmons said, “is I thought our guys showed tons of character to be down and not playing maybe as well as we’d like, but to never give up and find ways to make plays and beat a team that I have maybe as much respect for as anybody we play against. I can’t give our players enough credit. That’s not easy to do, and they all made plays, whether it was offensively, defensively – they never quit. They never thought they were out of it. They just kept battling…and I couldn’t be more proud of a bunch of guys as I am those in the locker room.”

UE senior Colt Ryan hit a 3-pointer with 1:19 to play in the second half. The next trip down the court, senior Ned Cox tied on another triple with 30 seconds left. “We just had guys step up and make tough, terrific shots,” Simmons said. “That’s what we needed. That’s what it took. It obviously gave us some momentum going into the overtime. We probably played with as much energy in the last five minutes of the game and in the overtime as we did the entire game. Those are things we talk about, and we’ve got to improve.”

From the other side of that, Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson explains his team’s final minute of regulation: “In this one, we needed to get one more basket. We had a six-point lead, and we needed to get one more basket. I’m gonna have to look at it to see what those two possessions look like – if we got a good look at the basket and got what we wanted. And if we didn’t, then we need to make sure we’re able to…get us to a look that’s what we want.”

UE missed four of its five free throw attempts in overtime. Finally, senior Troy Taylor hit the last one to extend the Aces’ lead to three. “I just think we missed them tonight,” Ryan said. “We’ll make sure we get back in and we’re practicing – making sure we’re shooting our 100 a day because that could have changed the outcome of the game tonight.”

Ryan led all scorers with 23 points and tied a career high with nine assists. Jacobson on Ryan’s night: “He played good. I thought, at halftime he’s 4-for-10 and we did a decent job on him. Really in the second half, I thought again he was 4-for-7. For him to go 8 of 17, that’s a pretty good night for a defense. After he made the 3 under a minute, they were going back to him in the same spot so we switched it and took him away. To Cox’s credit, he came off the pin down and he made it. From our standpoint, if we can get him to 7 of 17, 8 of 17, 6 of 17 – if those are the numbers – we’re going to have to live with those.”

The 6-foot-5 forward Ryan, whether hitting the shot or assisting, had a hand in 17 of UE’s 22 made field goals. By this point, opponents are obviously game planning for him. “I definitely think they’ve been playing a little bit more physical,” Ryan said. “We’ve got guys in practice that help me tremendously in different drills we do. They get up in us. I’ve just got to learn how to play through it – not stop cutting, not quit with the offense – but just keep going, and I’ll get other guys open also.”

Freshman Egidijus Mockevicius tallied career highs in rebounds (13) and blocks (six) while chipping in six points. Simmons kept with the big man even if he couldn’t always guard the Panthers’ 3-point shooting big men on the perimeter. “In this particular game, and in a lot of games, he’s an emotional leader out there,” the coach said. “You see him out there. The guy is very passionate. He’s got an energy level that’s off the charts. It makes it hard to take him out when he’s playing well, even though the matchup says maybe you should because you put a smaller guy out there and you can switch those ball screens…He loves to compete, and I can’t say enough good things about him. He plays his hind end off all the time.”

The Aces’ offense remained inconsistent, just as it was in road losses the last few weeks at Drake, Indiana State and Illinois State.  “I think (it’s because) you play against good teams – good competition,” Simmons said. “We’ve got to improve. We’ve got to make some shots. We got some pretty good looks out there at times, and we’re just not knocking them in. You can look at that as a negative, point, which is an area we need to improve. But you can also look that these guys gutted it out, defended, made plays, scratched and clawed until they were able to win.”

Improving, not maintaing status quo, is a big part of what Simmons wants from the Aces right now: “That’s what we talked about in the locker room. I think every guy in there understands that we can get better, and really the teams at this time of the year that continue to work to get better are the ones that are the most successful. I have a strong belief in our guys that they’ll do that.”

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