Stories from UE’s 65-56 loss at Southern Illinois, the Aces’ sixth straight road defeat:
—The areas in which UE struggled Wednesday were not new. They haven’t been all during Missouri Valley Conference play. As baffling as it is, the senior-laden Aces just haven’t been able to overcome the same woes: shooting droughts, rebounding weakness and periodic letdowns at the defensive end. All were apparent against the Salukis, probably UE’s worst loss this season (though it did come on the road). So where does the blame belong for what’s happening: players or coaches or a combination of both? If the Aces knew, they’d do something about it. That’s a question coach Marty Simmons has answered before. Ditto for UE’s seniors. It shouldn’t be overlooked, however, that the Aces are a few buckets away from a completely different record –67-62 at Illinois State, 62-61 at Missouri State and 76-70 at Bradley could have all gone the other way. The worrisome part about Wednesday is that UE had no business winning that game.
—Simmons pointed out that sophomore Ryan Sawvell “gave a lift” for the Aces, especially as they went on a 10-0 run to lead briefly at the end of the first half. It leaves you wondering why Sawvell doesn’t get the chance more often — he didn’t play at all against Drake — though an opponent such as Southern Illinois provided a better matchup for him to succeed. The Salukis typically have, at most, one player on the floor as tall as 6-foot-5. None of them are wide-bodied, either, and Sawvell entering the game is typically contingent on foul trouble for freshman Egidijus Mockevicius and sophomore Jaylon Moore. Wednesday, the reason came out need. The Aces were beat on the boards handily by the smaller Salukis, and Sawvell came off the bench to record four points and three rebounds in six first half minutes. We’ll see if that carries over to more time against Creighton.
—The Aces have five regular-season games left (including next weekend’s BracketBusters contest at Wright State) before Arch Madness. The four MVC games come against what’s probably the most daunting set of teams in the league: Creighton, Illinois State, Wichita State and Indiana State. Just one of those, a Feb. 27 matchup against the Shockers, comes on the road. But no team in the league faces a more difficult end of the season than UE, which is essentially playing now to stay sixth or better in the league standings and avoid a Thursday conference tournament game. Finishing in the top six won’t do the Aces much good, however, if they can’t correct the same consistent mistakes magnified by Southern Illinois.